The police and secret services in Cabo Delgado say they are searching for community radio journalist Ibraimo Mbaruco who went missing over a week ago — and cannot confirm claims from his family that he has already been found dead.
Mbaruco, who works for a radio station in Palma set up with money from the Total-led LNG project nearby, disappeared on 7 April after leaving work to go home at 6pm. The last anyone heard from him was a short text message to colleagues saying he was “surrounded by soldiers”, according to the Mozambican branch of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). MISA said the following day that they had confirmed that Mbaruco was not being held at the military barracks in Palma.
Yesterday, Cabo Delgado police spokesperson Augusto Guta said the police, secret services SISE, and “all the security and defence forces” are trying to locate Mbaruco. Guta said they had heard from “family sources” that Mbaruco was already dead, but the police could not confirm that. A brother of Mbaruco did not confirm that Mbaruco is dead, when Zitamar spoke to him yesterday.
Also yesterday, police confiscated the telephone of a journalist in Pemba, forcing him to delete images of police beating and whipping people in the Paquetiquete neighbourhood of the city. Hizidine Acha, a reporter for O País newspaper and the STV television station, spent two hours with police to retrieve his telephone and ID card, and was forced to delete the two photos he had taken of the police operation.
Police spokesperson Guta told Zitamar that the situation had been a misunderstanding: that the police were not beating or whipping people, and that Acha had been stopped from taking photos on his telephone as he had not been identified as a journalist. Once he was identified as a journalist, his phone was returned to him and he was allowed to continue working, Guta claimed.
In January 2019, journalist Amade Abubacar was arrested by police for taking photos of displaced people in Macomia, also in Cabo Delgado. Abubacar spent four months illegally detained in military and civilian institutions, and still faces charges of working against the interests of Mozambique’s security and defence forces.
The people of Cabo Delgado “feel isolated and abandoned”,because the violent insurgency is not being reported in Mozambique’s media, the Bishop of Pemba said in an interview with CDD on Sunday. Bishop Luíz Fernando Lisboa said there is a “climate of fear” in the province, and said “journalists who have tried to cover the attacks have been detained. They have been imprisoned for a long time, without trial.”
The morning after Mbaruco’s disappearance the administrator of the radio station, which is part of the state-run ICS network, reported the disappearance to the local authorities.
In recent days, police have been enforcing a curfew in Pemba and in Palma, forcing people to stay in their homes after dark. This week, they have taken to violently forcing people off the streets during daylight hours too.
On the day of Mbaruco’s disappearance, a number of other residents of Palma were also reported missing, sources in the town told Zitamar, suspected of having been abducted by security forces.
As well as journalism, Mbaruco was a human rights defender, and had taken part in training given by human rights group Amnesty. He was also part of the Sekelekani network, a civil society organisation run out of Maputo by veteran broadcaster Tomas Vieira Mario, helping people in rural parts of Mozambique to become citizen reporters by using smartphones and other communication technology.
Another Sekelekani contributor in Palma disappeared in March, according to a report in Moz24h, which wrongly said Roberto Abdala also worked at the same radio station as Mbaruco. In fact, Zitamar understands that Abdala was associated with another civil society organisation, Centro Terra Viva, concerned with land rights.
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