Journalists, human rights and civil society organisations have taken to social media with the hashtag #FreeAmade. Pic: Twitterr
Press freedom is in the spotlight again as global organisations band together to demand the release of Mozambican community radio journalist Amade Abubacar. Abubacar, who is a journalist for state-owned Rádio e Televisao Comunitária Nacedje de Macomia, is still being detained after his arrest on January 5. He was initially detained for 12 days by Mozambican military forces on charges of espionage.
Abubacar's arrest is believed to be linked to his reporting on the ongoing conflict between Mozambican security agencies and unidentified armed groups in the north eastern Cabo Delgado province. The province, which is rich in natural gas, has also seen deadly incursions by insurgents calling themselves Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamâ since October 2018.
At the time of his arrest at the start of the year, Abubacar was conducting interviews with people who had been forced to flee attacks in the region. By the end of January he had been moved and was being detained at the Mieze Prison in Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado.
In a statement, 38 human and civil rights organisations from across the world call on Mozambican authorities to respect media freedom and release the reporter. “We urge the Mozambican authorities to end arbitrary arrests and detentions of journalists and immediately and unconditionally release Amade Abubacar who is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for his work as a journalist. We also urge the Mozambican authorities to investigate the alleged ill-treatment of Amade while he was in military detention and hold all those responsible to account,” the statement said.
In the weeks following his capture, the UN Commission for Human Rights raised concerns about Abubacar’s arrest, saying it “appears to be directly related” to his work as a journalist. UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, and the Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong, said the arrest could have a “chilling effect” on those in Mozambique who want to exercise their right to freedom of expression.
Angela Quintal from the Committee to Protect Journalists said it is outrageous that a community journalist who has worked to keep citizens informed about the insurgency has been detained for more than three months without trial.
Quintal said Mozambican authorities should stop detaining journalists and accusing them of colluding with militants. She said: “Silencing journalists and keeping citizens in the dark suggests that the Mozambican government does not respect fundamental human rights, like access to information and freedom of the press.” She said this begs the question: What is President Nyusi's government trying to hide?”
Mistreatment and detention without trial
According to the joint statement calling for his unconditional release, Abubacar is being detained without trial and he has been denied visits from his family. Furthermore, no court appearances or trial dates have been scheduled.
During a supervised visit from members of the Commission of the Mozambican Bar Association and his lawyer on January 25, Abubacar said he had been ill-treated by his military captors. It was the first, and only meeting since his arrest.
Initial reports suggested the reporter was being held on espionage charges. It has since been announced that authorities are investigating charges relating to “public incitement using electronic media” and “violation of State secrecy” under Mozambican law.
The statement by human and civil rights organisations highlight that Abubacar's continued detention for more than 90 days without trial, violates both the Mozambican Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1993.
Arrest not an isolated incident
Abubacar is not the first or only journalist targeted and detained by authorities for reporting on the activities of armed groups in Cabo Delgado province. As the armed conflict escalated towards the end of 2018, more soldiers were deployed to the region. With the influx of military personnel, there were increasing reports of soldiers interfering with journalists and preventing them from covering the situation on the ground.
Germano Daniel Adriano, also from state-owned Rádio e Televisão Comunitária Nacedje de Macomia, has been awaiting trial in Mieze Prison since his arrest on January 18, 2019.
Investigative journalist Estacio Valoi and Amnesty International researcher David Matsinhe were arrested by military forces in December 2018. They were detained incommunicado for two days in the Mocímboa da Praia district, on accusations of spying, as well as aiding and abetting the extremist groups in the region.
Valoi and Matsinhle were later released without charges being brought against them, but their equipment that was confiscated when they were arrested, has still not been returned.
In June 2018, police in Pemba also arrested and detained Phindai Dube, a journalist for South African news channel eNCA. After being held for three days on accusations of spying, Dube was released without trial.