- Three Mozambican journalists were last Friday sentenced to six months imprisonment for libeling prime minister Luis Diogo, but the sentence was converted into a fine though the three will not pay a penny in damages.
Three convicted journalists, Fernando Veloso, Luis Nhachote and Alvarito de Carvalho, from a weekly, "Zambezi" were charged under an out-of-date clause in state security legislation that had never been used before. This clause determines that libeling certain high figures of state constitutes a security offence.
The offending article, published in May, suggested that Ms Diogo was not really a Mozambican, because her husband Albano Silva, was supposedly a foreigner.
A discriminatory clause in nationality law of the time stated that Mozambican women who married foreigners lost their Mozambican nationality (no such penalty was suffered by Mozambican men who took foreign wives).
Rather than wait for the couple to bring a libel suit, Maputo branch of public prosecutor's office reportedly rushed in, within days of article's publication, brandishing 1991 state security law, and demanding that the three journalists pay about US$ 420,000, in damages.
The tactic has however backfired as court in Maputo first urban district threw out damages claim, arguing that in cases of crimes against state security, no compensation is paid.
The court found that article was indeed libelous, and declared "the accused had the intention of offending honour and image of prime minister".
In their defence, the journalists claimed that they had done all in their power to check whether Mr Silva was a Mozambican at the time of marriage.
They said they could not find any documents that proved that he was a Mozambican citizen. But it was later discovered that such documents do exist, which show that Mr Silva applied for Mozambican nationality in September 1975.
The nationality law stated that people born outside Mozambique (Silva was born in northern Portugal) but who had lived more than half their lives in Mozambique were entitled to Mozambican nationality, if they applied within three months of the proclamation of independence.
Evidence further showed that Mr Silva was granted a Mozambican identity card in January 1976, and formal dispatch granting him Mozambican nationality came through in September 1977.
The judge remarked that the fact this had not been published in the "Boletim da Republica" did not mean that Silva's nationality was somehow cancelled.
The three claimed that they had merely "raised questions" about prime minister's nationality.
"We didn't say prime minister is not Mozambican", said paper's editor, Veloso.
This claim may not be a downright lie, but it is at least disingenuous, since paper carried a screaming front page headline "Is the Prime Minister Mozambican?" and entire coverage was slanted so as to imply that she is a foreigner.
The journalists' lawyer, Eduardo Jorge, has announced that they will appeal against verdict and sentence.
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