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Free Speech, Free Press in Mozambique

By Lauren Jurgemeyer

I. Introduction

Though freedom of speech and press are guaranteed by Mozambique’s constitution, Freedom House considers the country, like most countries in the Sub-Sahara African region, as only “partly free” with a score of 51 out of 100(1). Ranked at 103 out of 180 countries on the 2019(2) World Press Freedom Index, Mozambique experienced a minor drop of four points since 2018(3), but a more drastic dip of 10 places since 2017(4). According to the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), journalists and human rights advocates are the most likely to have their freedoms violated through violent and/or monetary threats(5).

II. Historical Background

Situated on the southeastern coast of Africa, Mozambique is divided into two topographical regions(6). North of the Zambezi river, the fourth-longest river in Africa, the coastline narrows and plateaus into hills and highlands. To the South of the Zambezi river there are wide lowlands with scattered hills and mountains along its borders.  Mozambique has several rivers that drain into the Indian Ocean. It is considered to be in the Great Rift Valley of Africa, which is famous for geographical faults resulting in cliffs, mountain ranges, valleys and deep lakes(7). The Great Rift Valley is home to some of Africa’s tallest mountains, including Monte Binga which is the country’s highest point located on the border of Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Known for its great diving and beach destinations, Mozambique’s tourism thrives off game fishing and the fascinating history of gold, ivory and pirates. Artwork produced by cultures in the northern region fascinate travelers with their themes of civil war and struggle. Mozambique is also famous for its quality seafood(8).

The Portuguese colonized Mozambique, an area formally known as Portuguese East Africa, in the early 16th century because of the “area’s strategic ports and the existence of gold and ivory”(9). Mozambique played its part in the infamous slave trade; most of the enslaved were sent to French sugar plantations. In 1842, Portugal outlawed slavery, but in the colony of Mozambique, the business continued in the years to follow. After centuries under Portuguese rule, the people of Mozambique grew restless. In 1962, exiled activists against Portugal established the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). The organization used guerrilla warfare tactics to force conflict with Portugal; more than 10 years later, in 1975, Mozambique was finally independent from Portugal.

Following its independence, Mozambique adopted a presidential republic having both a president and a prime minister. In the early 1980s, civil war broke out between the National Resistance movement of Mozambique (RENAMO) and the Mozambican government or FRELIMO. Tensions died down toward the beginning of the next decade with FRELIMO as the victorious party. In 2011, gas fields were discovered off the coast—transforming the country’s economy—although, the majority of the population remains in poverty.

Home to approximately 27 million people, nearly 99 percent of its population are indigenous tribal groups. The average life expectancy is about 54 years, ranking in the low 200s on an international scale. Mozambique’s HIV/AIDS prevalence ranks among the worst in the world, according to the United Nations as of 2008. “Prevalence rates among adults are estimated to have increased from 14 percent in 2002 to 16 percent in 2007 with an uneven pattern throughout the provinces”(10). According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), since 2010, “HIV infections have decreased by 24 percent and AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 46 percent”(11). Currently in a global comparison, Mozambique ranks as fourth on the list of countries with a high incidence of people living with HIV/AIDS(12).

III. Free Speech

The FRELIMO party, led by President Filipe Nyusi who was sworn into office in 2015, holds power in Mozambique. FRELIMO has dominated the political sphere in Mozambique since the country became independent from Portugal(13).

According to a press release issued by Nyusi, the Mozambican government is “working hand in hand with social communication professionals to create a healthy environment of freedom of expression and access to information, to dignify this class, building a society tolerant to the plurality of ideas”(14).

However, the most frequent violator of freedom of speech in Mozambique is the government and its respective political parties. Intimidation and attacks are used against citizens expressing a dissenting or critical view of the government officials or the government as a whole.

According to experts, law enforcement in Mozambique do little to nothing to investigate these violations against human rights(15).

Article 48 of Mozambique’s constitution lays out citizens’ freedom of speech, guaranteeing freedom of expression, press and the right to information. Citizens may express their opinions by lawful means and their right to information cannot be restricted via censorship(16).

In 2015, Gilles Cistac, a constitutional lawyer and professor, was gunned down in the capital city of Maputo. Cistac had been a critic of the FRELIMO party and expressed his disapproval of the violation of human rights in Mozambique(17). Following elections in 2014, which resulted in Nyusi’s victory, Cistac prepared a legislative proposal for the RENAMO party which was going to be discussed in parliament(18). Before his murder, Cistac had expressed fear for his safety to the Attorney General of Mozambique due to threats he had been receiving. His assassination rekindled concerns about the intolerance of freedom of speech and expression.

In 2016, José Jamie Macuane was kidnapped and shot. Macuane is a lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University and a regular political commentator on a nightly talk show “Pontos da Vista” (“Points of View”). The show is known for its critical position against the government and its propensity to analyze the government and its policies with scrutiny(19). Macuane was shot in the legs and his kidnappers said they were told to cripple him. Macuane said later after surviving his attack that he was a victim of his words(20).

In the same year, Jeremias Pondeca was assassinated. Pondeca represented RENAMO in parliament, and he was also a part of a team preparing a negotiation of peace between RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama and President Filipe Nyusi before his murder. Pondeca was an outspoken critic of FRELIMO(21). Following his death, the European Union issued a statement condemning his murder and expressing the need for peace in Mozambique(22).

More recently in 2017, the president of Nampula City Council, Mahamudo Amurane, was murdered. Amurane had been elected mayor of Nampula in 2013 as a member of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique. Amurane sought to root out corruption in the city’s infrastructure. Months before his death, Amurane was in conflict with the rest of his party and had plans to leave the party the following election season. Deprose Muchena, the director of Amnesty International for South Africa, called the murder “deeply suspicious.”

“Since coming into office in 2013, the Nampula City mayor had bravely tackled corruption head on,” Muchena said. “It is no secret that this made him a target of attacks, even within his own Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) party”(23).

In a statement by the United States Embassy in Mozambique, Amurane was described as having a strong working relationship with the U.S. The statement went on to condemn those who had committed the “detestable” act, and called for a hasty investigation into Amurane’s death(24).

What ties these cases together is the outspoken nature of the victims who had either published or appeared in the press criticizing FRELIMO. To date, there has been little to none investigation on these several cases. While no law or policy has been enacted that conflicts with the right of freedom of speech, the government uses violence to discourage citizen’s voicing opinions contrary to those views of those in power.

IV. Free Press

The Mozambique constitution protects journalists’ expressions, their access to sources of information, protection and professional confidentiality of said sources, and the right to establish newspapers and/or other publications. Additionally, the public sector of media expression of ideas and opinions are protected. It is important to note that the constitution was amended in 2004 to guarantee these rights of freedom of expression, speech and press.

As of 2017, there are no official restrictions enacted on the ability of an individual to criticize the government and its policies according to the Mozambique Human Rights Report. However, members of the community and press feel as though they cannot freely express their opinion without fear of retaliation. The government has exerted pressure on all media causing many journalists to censor themselves in fear of government retaliation(25).

While there are no censorship laws or apparent content restrictions, the government exerts it control over the media through monetary actions. While it is stated that freedom of press is separate from a governmental body, most media outlets’ revenue stream stems from ministries and government-controlled businesses.

There are two veins of Mozambican media which can be divided as state and non-state media sectors. The non-state sector tends to report with immediacy, detail and critical analysis of the topic that is being reported. The state sector is, as it sounds, influenced by the government. This sector lacks immediacy and often only offers governmental interpretations of the topic(26).

According to “The Web in African Countries” by Susana Salgado, even when a media source is privately owned the owner and/or shareholders, more likely than not, are somehow linked to the governing elite. Independent media outlets with low salaries are over vulnerable to bribes, threats and pressure(27).

In 2002, journalist Carlos Cardoso, a trail-blazer for Mozambican media, was murdered. Carlitos Rachide plead guilty to Cardoso’s murder, claiming that former President Joaquim Chissano’s eldest son had ordered the assassination. In turn, for carrying out the murder Rachide was meant to have received an exuberant amount of money(28).

Cardoso was a respected journalist whom had frequently published exposés on corruption in the Mozambican government. In his career, Cardoso was jailed for particular publications that opposed FRELIMO. In the early ‘90s, Cardoso co-founded Mediacoop which was Mozambique’s first independent press cooperative. Several years later, Cardoso left Mediacoop and set up a paper called “Metical” which focused on Mozambique’s economy. Before his death Cardoso was researching government officials whom he could link to bank fraud and other cover-ups.

“[Cardoso’s] killing is a clear message to journalists and others of the price of asking too many questions,” Joseph Hanlon said(29).

In 2015, following the murder of Gilles Cistac, a crime reporter and radio host Paulo Machava was shot and killed. Machava had spent years reporting on criminal activity in Mozambique. During his career, Machava published a series of articles on the man who was later found guilty of Carlos Cardoso’s assassination in 2000. At the time of his death, Machava was the founder and editor of a news website. Before his death, Machava had recently expressed support for journalists who are being prosecuted for defamation against the president(30).

“This is once more a way of trying to silence journalists in our country,” said the chair of the Mozambique’s National Union of Journalists Eduardo Constantino(31).

More recently in 2018, a prominent Mozambican journalist and human rights activist Ericino de Salema was kidnapped and assaulted. Before the attack, Salema had criticized the alleged corruption of Nyusi and family during regular appearances on an independent television station(32). The day before his abduction, Salema had also appeared on “Pontos de Vista” where he critiqued the government’s handling on debt and called for the resignation of the finance minister.

In response to Salema’s abduction, the Human Rights Watch has condemned the current climate of fear in Mozambique. Media organizations including the Mass Media Supreme Council said, “This attack carried out in broad daylight is indicative of a climate of impunity”(33).

The United States Embassy in Mozambique also released a statement regarding the attack. The Embassy condemns the abduction and assault of Salema, and offers their support in the efforts of the authorities who are to conduct an investigation.

“Such an act of violence against a respected journalist in front of the National Union of Journalists is an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” the United States Embassy said(34).

In the same year, Mozambican government planned to impose fines on foreign correspondents who are working in the country. Foreign correspondents would be expected to pay media accreditations to the upward of $2,000 per trip, while foreign correspondents living in Mozambique could expect to pay around $8,000 per year. Local media will suffer under the fines as well, with costs to register new publications and a fee to register new radio stations.

According to Adrien Barbier, a journalist who lived in Mozambique from 2014 to 2017, the fines mean that fewer journalists may be willing to go report in the country. Barbier fears that with these fines, Mozambique will fall off the radar.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa condemns these regulations and sees the fines as an attack on free press that the Constitution of Mozambique allegedly protects(35).

In early January 2019, a journalist Amade Abubacar was detained in prison for reporting on attacks against civilians by insurgents. His arrest was a part of a strategy by the Mozambican military to suppress media coverage of the attacks. Despite calls for his release, Abubacar has had his bail denied and has remained imprisoned. According to Amnesty International, Abubacar is being mistreated and being denied medical treatment(36).

V. Critical Comparison

In the United States, journalists cannot guarantee the confidentiality of their sources without legal penalty. For example, in the 1959 case of Garland v. Torre, Marie Torre was held in contempt of court for withholding the name of her source. Torre had published an article about Judy Garland’s recent contract with a television company, and a source from the company revealed that Garland had been hesitant to confirm a start date because she thought herself overweight. Garland sued Torre for libel and breach of contract. Torre’s lawyers argued that maintaining the confidentiality of her source was protected by the First Amendment(37).

“It was the first time that constitutional argument had ever been made: the beginning of what has become a familiar legal debate about the rights of journalists,” wrote author Anthony Lewis in his book, “Freedom for the Thought That We Hate”(38).

Years later in 1972, the United States Supreme Court case Brazenburg v. Hayes found that compelling journalists in a grand jury setting to disclose their sources is not a constitutional violation(39). Justice White in his opinion cited Caldwell v. United States which was reversed in the court decision of Brazenburg. The ruling in Caldwell, however, coincides with Mozambique’s stance on the issue(40).

Floyd Abrams, author of “Friend of the Court: On the Front Lines with the First Amendment,” found the Brazenburg decision to be “sad and ironic” in terms of free speech. Abrams describes the United States as a country that assures journalists that they are free from punishment for what they write, and when the press is punished for a good reason.

“American law may provide less protection in our federal courts for journalists who have promised confidentiality to their sources than is routinely the case elsewhere in the world,” Abram wrote. He recognized that in different countries, including Mozambique, journalists are not required to reveal their sources(41).

The United States Supreme Court case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan in 1964 set the precedent that to defend a claim of libel, the plaintiff must show that the defendant knew that a statement was false or reckless in publishing the information without the regard for whether or not the information was true(42).

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan revolutionized the law of libel in the United States, Lewis wrote. “The law of other countries was affected, too. Over the years since 1964, a number of courts abroad have adjusted their law of libel to give authors of criticism more protection”38.

In 2014, the Konaté v. Burkina Faso case ruled on libel in Africa. The African Court, which was modelled after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, oversees every African country sans Morocco. The holdings of a lower court that found the defendant guilty of libel was reversed.

By modelling their court after a court with ties to the United States, Africa recognized the reach of the precedent established in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. Matt Duffy, who offered his analysis on Konatédeemed it as a landmark decision because there were few courts in Africa that rule in favor of journalists in libel cases(43).

In 2013, a Mozambican economist Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco posted an open-letter on Facebook that criticized former President Armando Emílio Guebuza. Castel-Branco alleged that the former president was attempting to make the country fascist, comparing him to historic dictators like Hitler and Mussolini. His post was later published by Mediafax, a local newspaper.

Castel-Branco was then charged with slander and libel alongside the editor of Mediafax who was charged with the crime of abuse of press freedom. Two years later in 2015, the charges in Public Ministry v. Castel-Branco and Mbanze were dismissed by the District Court of Kampfumo, concluding that the post did not constitute slander or libel, and therefore Castel-Branco was constitutionally protected(44).

In early 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled on the case Davison v. Randall. Similar to the circumstances in Castel-Branco’s case, Davision had posted on a Facebook page. The page was for Loudoun County School Board (LCSB) and was maintained by the chair Phyllis Randall. Davison posted comments alleging corruption within the LCSB, his comments were deleted by Randall and Davison was banned from the page for 12 hours(45).

The court deemed that the page was a public form and that Randall had violated Davison’s First Amendment rights. The similarities tying Castel-Branco’s case with Davison’s lies in the violation of their freedom of speech, and their posts alleging corruption in bodies of authority.

VI. Conclusion

The United States protects the freedom of speech and press of its citizens more than the Republic of Mozambique. In the judicial setting, both countries offer similar protections; however, Mozambique’s cases rarely make it to court because journalists and activists are intimidated or paid off by the government. Until the corruption and oppressive nature of the Mozambican government changes, citizens will continue to have their freedom of speech and press oppressed.

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This essay was last updated on April 30, 2019.


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