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Journalist detention shows Mozambique’s ‘contempt’ for press freedom – rights groups

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International press freedom and human rights groups have called on the Mozambican authorities to stop treating journalists like criminals, as reporter Amade Abubacar remains in military custody almost a week after his unexplained arrest.

Abubacar is being illegally detained in a military barracks in Mueda, Cabo Delgado, local media rights organisation MISA said last night, citing unnamed sources in the military – after a lawyer sent by MISA failed to locate him in any civilian jail in the area.

Abubacar, a journalist with a community radio station in the insurgency-hit district of Macomia, and a correspondent for Zitamar News, was arrested on Saturday, 5 January, while photographing people fleeing insurgent attacks in Macomia district.

According to an SMS message which local news outlet Pinnacle News said was sent by Abubacar on a borrowed mobile phone, Abubacar claims he was “brutally kicked” by police before being handed over to the military, who have since accused him of being involved in recruiting for the insurgency.

Mozambique’s police and military have so far failed to make any official comment on the reasons for Abubacar’s detention, or to confirm where and by whom he is being held.

Abubacar’s detention in the military barracks is illegal, on two counts, MISA said: he ought to be presented to a judge within 48 hours of his arrest, which has not happened; and he ought to be being held in a civilian facility, not a military barracks.

Media crackdown ahead of ‘crucial’ elections

Abubacar was “just doing his job in a region where reporting is scarce because of the prevailing violence,” according to Arnaud Froger of Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), who yesterday called for “his immediate and unconditional release.”

“With nine months to go to a presidential election, it is important that journalists should be able to access this conflict zone and cover all subjects of concern to the public without being obstructed by the authorities,” Froger said.

Froger’s call was echoed by Angela Quintal of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, who said on Wednesday that “Mozambican authorities should immediately free Amade Abubacar without charge and stop censoring coverage of the insurgency.”

Amnesty International’s Tigere Chagutah said Abubacar’s arrest “is the latest display of contempt for freedom of expression and media freedom by the Mozambican authorities, who see journalists as a threat and treat them like criminals.”

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