Ibraimo Abú Mbaruco, a reporter and news presenter for the Palma Community Radio broadcaster in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado, went missing on April 7, 2020.
Mbaruco was last seen leaving his office at about 6 p.m. and soon thereafter sent a text message to a colleague saying he was “surrounded by soldiers,” according to a statement by the Mozambican chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a regional press freedom group, and local news reports.
Fernando Gonçalves, president of MISA’s Mozambique chapter, told CPJ in a phone interview in April 2020 that a police officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that soldiers took Mbaruco to Mueda, a city about 300 kilometers (186 miles) away, for interrogation. CPJ was not able to independently verify that claim.
Gonçalves added that the military had no authority to detain civilians, and that Mozambican laws did not allow for arrests without a warrant.
On Palma Community Radio’s official Facebook page, the outlet’s posts cover local security and business issues and are generally supportive of the province’s government. The broadcaster is part of a network of state-run radio stations, according to according to a report by the privately owned Zitamar News website.
In the days after he went missing, Mbaruco’s colleagues repeatedly called and texted his phone, but he did not reply, according to the MISA statement. In another statement, issued after a MISA team travelled to the provincial capital, Pemba, to conduct their own fact-finding mission and interviewed Mbaruco’s family in June 2020, his relatives also said they repeatedly called him following his disappearance but no one answered.
MISA’s information was forwarded to the National Criminal Investigation Service for follow-up, its June statement said.
The journalist’s brother, Juma Abú Mbaruco, told CPJ via messaging app in April 2020 that the family had not received any information about the journalist’s whereabouts, and did not know if he was still alive. He said he had reported the disappearance to local police and the provincial prosecutor’s office.
He repeated in February 2021 that his family had not received any news about his brother’s whereabouts or state of health.
In late April 2020, CPJ joined 16 other civil society groups in sending a letter to Mozambican President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi expressing concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in northern Cabo Delgado province, including Mbaruco’s disappearance.
The letter asked Mozambican authorities to “promptly, thoroughly and effectively” investigate his disappearance, and to be transparent in those efforts.
In November 2020, Gonçalves told CPJ via messaging app that there was no new information regarding Mbaruco’s whereabouts, saying “not only has the government failed in its duty to protect its own citizens, it has shown absolutely no interest in investigating this case.”
In February 2021, Gonçalves said the situation remained the same.
Octávio Zilo, the chief prosecutor in Cabo Delgado, told CPJ via messaging app in February 2021 that authorities had taken the matter of Mbaruco’s disappearance with “great responsibility and seriousness.” He said his office was directing an investigation by the National Criminal Investigation Service. The investigation was progressing slowly due to terrorist attacks in the north of Cabo Delgado, he said.
CPJ messaged Rafael Shikani, a special advisor to the Ministry of Interior, as well as Teofilo Nhampossa, the ministry’s spokesperson, for comment in February 2021, but they did not respond.
Mbaruco also worked as a human rights advocate and was part of the Sekelekani network, a local civil society organization that trains people to become citizen journalists, according to Zitamar News.
Several residents of the town also went missing on the same day, and were believed to have been abducted by security forces, according to that report.