On December 14, 2023, prominent newspaper editor and commentator João Chamusse was found dead in the yard of his home in KaTembe district, across the bay from the capital, Maputo, according to news reports and four journalists with knowledge of the case who spoke to CPJ.
Chamusse was co-owner and editor of Ponto por Ponto, an online daily newspaper that covers corruption and current affairs and is known for its critical editorial line. He was also a regular commentator on the privately owned broadcaster TV Sucesso, according to those sources and Jeremias Langa, chairperson of the Mozambican chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a regional rights organization.
Ponto por Ponto co-owner Esmeralda Amaral, who visited the scene, told CPJ that she saw Chamusse’s body lying on the ground. “A deep wound to the head was visible, and there was blood all over the yard,” said Amaral, adding that police “collected a machete and a garden hoe they suspect could have been the murder weapons.”
Luis Nhachote and Lázaro Mabunda, two journalists who reported on the story, told CPJ that Chamusse’s two phones and at least one laptop were missing, while other valuables were left behind, raising suspicion that he was targeted for his work. Amaral told CPJ that there were also signs of an attempt to break into an empty office in Chamusse’s compound.
The news website Mozambique Insights cited an unnamed neighbor as saying that he heard the sounds of an altercation in the early morning, with someone asking for help, while other voices kept asking for a PIN number.
Deonildo Tamele, a reporter at Ponto Por Ponto, told CPJ that Chamusse’s recent television commentary and newspaper coverage had focused on the October local elections. The main story in Ponto Por Ponto the night before Chamusse died was about electoral corruption and allegations of threats against judges reviewing the results, according to co-owner Amaral.
On December 15, the general commander of the police, Bernardino Rafael, told CPJ that officers had arrested Chamusse’s neighbor, Nelson Mulanda, on suspicion of committing the murder due to “anger motivated by the constant loud sound and noise of the music of his neighbor, Chamusse, particularly at late night hours."
The neighbor’s arrest drew criticism from the rights group MISA and Mulanda’s family and neighbors, who accused the authorities of scapegoating him in interviews with TV Sucesso. Several days later, Mulanda was released due to lack of evidence, according to news reports.
On December 22, the National Criminal Investigation Service (SERNIC) announced the arrest of two new suspects, aged 18 and 23, who were found in possession of Chamusse’s laptop and phone, according to news reports and Henrique Mendes, spokesman of SERNIC in Maputo province, who spoke with CPJ.
Mendes declined to name the suspects while the investigation was ongoing but said one man had confessed to murdering Chamusse because the journalist owed him 12,000 meticais (US$188).
In January 2024, Amaral told CPJ that neither Chamusse’s colleagues nor his family had been notified of the SERNIC’s findings and that “doubts remain about what happened to Chamusse.”
Nhachote told CPJ that “even though the police findings are relevant, there is still one of the journalist’s phones unaccounted for, and the level of violence appears unjustified for a debt of 12,000 meticais.”