A journalist in rural Cabo Delgado has been freed from prison but fined a year’s salary for quoting an employee of state electricity utility Electricidade de Moçambique (EDM) without her consent.
Arlindo Victorino, a journalist for the local community radio station in the district of Macomia, spoke to EDM technician Merina Afonso in April 2016 by to ask why local people were having their electricity supply cut off without warning.
Afonso told Victorino that she was not the right person to comment on the matter, telling him he should speak to the director who was absent at the time. The ill-tempered exchange between the two was broadcast on the community radio station, Radio e Televisao Comunitaria Nacedje de Macomia, and a written account was given on the radio station’s Facebook page. A week later, the radio station published an interview with the local EDM director, Inácio Serpa, who explained that people were being cut off for not paying their bills.
Earlier this month, Victorino was sentenced to 12 months in prison after being found guilty of defaming Afonso at a tribunal in Macomia. The sentence has since been commuted to a fine.
A source in Macomia told Zitamar News that the court did not request to hear the recording of the radio broadcastor read the article published online. Victorino also had no legal counsel at his trial, which took place at the end of November.
The ruling appears to be in contravention of Mozambique’s press law, which states that defamation suits have to be brought within 90 days of the date of publication.
Victorino was initially ordered to pay damages of 30,000 meticais ($417) and 1990 meticais ($28) costs.
Following the intervention of the Instituto de Comunicacao Social, a state-linked network of community journalists which Victorino belonged to, the journalist was spared prison, but his fine has been increased to 54,000 meticais, roughly a year’s salary.
EDM’s spokesman in Maputo, Moisés Mabunda, told Zitamar that the journalist “should have waited to speak to the right person,” rather than quoting Afonso. However, he said the complaint was brought by Afonso in a personal capacity, and EDM is not in a position to tell its employees to withdraw legal complaints.
EDM also cut off the power supply to the Macomia community radio station on the day of Victorino’s trial, due to outstanding unpaid bills. The station has been off the air since then.
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