- A journalist based in Mozambique's northern Niassa province has been detained after the provincial Chief Attorney claimed to be defamed in one of his articles. The Mozambican Human Rights League had told the journalist of corrupt practices is the Chief Attorney's offices.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Mozambique and the Niassa branch of Mozambique’s journalists' union (SNJ), today condemned the detention for 10 hours on Saturday, 15 May, of reporter Fabiao Mondlane. Mr Mondlane works on the independent local paper 'Faisca', and is also correspondent for one of a Maputo weekly, 'Demos'.
He was arrested in Niassa's provincial capital, Lichinga - located close to Lake Malawi (Lago Niassa in Portuguese) - on the orders of the provincial Chief Attorney, Domingos Telha. Mr Telha claimed that reporter Mondlane had defamed him in an article on corruption in the provincial attorney's office that was published in 'Faisca' on 13 May.
- However, the person who made the corruption allegation was Alice Mabota, chairperson of the Mozambican Human Rights League (LDH), who was on a visit to Niassa Province, MISA said in a statement today. 'Faisca' had quoted her as saying at a press conference that there was "unprecedented corruption" in Mr Telha's office, and that Attorney-General Joaquim Madeira should take "urgent measures" to bring the situation to an end.
Ms Mabota said she had every intention of telling Attorney-General Madeira of what she had seen and heard in Niassa. She confirmed that the corruption consisted of illegal charges made by officials in the provincial attorney's office, including Mr Telha himself.
- These are proven cases of the involvement of state officials in schemes of easy enrichment, the human rights activist was quoted as saying by 'Faisca' and MISA-Mozambique.
When the article on Ms Mabota's claims and an accompanying editorial were published, Mr Telha signed a warrant for Mr Mondlane's immediate arrest on libel charges.
- The SNJ and MISA both regarded the arrest as a violation of Mozambique's press law, the media watchdog groups said in a statement today. They believed that Mr Mondlane was detained solely because he had "complied with his duty as a journalist to inform the public of a matter of public interest."
Mr Mondlane later said he had been thrown into a dank and foul-smelling cell alongside people accused of such serious crimes as armed robbery and mutilation. He was released 10 hours later by the director of the Lichinga prison, who told him he had received orders to set him free because the arrest was illegal. Mr Mondlane was even given a ride home in a police car.
Interviewed by the newssheet 'Imparcial', which is in favour of the Renamo political party, Mr Mondlane accused provincial Chief Attorney Telha of "abuse of power". He noted that several other media organisations had reported Ms Mabota's statements, including 'Radio Mozambique' and Mozambican Television (TVM).
- Why didn't they arrest the other journalists who published what Mabota said?, he asked in the interview with 'Imparcial'.
Reporter Mondlane recalled that the official who served the arrest warrant had told him he was being jailed because he had written "filth" against the provincial attorney. The Lichinga police have also been questioning a local photographer, Feliciano Wiriamo, who published a photograph of a group of criminals attacking a woman.
According to 'Faisca' editor Santos Mante, the police wanted to know how Mr Wiriamo had taken the photograph without being involved in the crime. Editor Mante added that he regarded such offensive questions as intimidatory, and a denial of media freedom.
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