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Uncaught Tuna: Free Amade Abubacar

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The government continues a terrifying crackdown on media in Cabo Delgado, but the most effective way to fight an insurgency is by giving civilians more access to information – not less

By Zitamar contributing editor and security analyst Sam Ratner

As I write this column, my Zitamar News colleague Amade Abubacar sits in a military prison cell in Mueda. He was illegally arrested Saturday morning while photographing civilians in Macomia fleeing to refugee camps to avoid the ongoing violence in Cabo Delgado. Pinnacle News reported that he has been beaten and falsely accused of managing a pro-insurgent Facebook account, but we cannot confirm the report because the military will neither acknowledge that they have arrested him nor allow him free communication with the outside world. Regardless of the accusations, the only real reason for Abubacar’s detention is his effort to inform the Mozambican public about the conflict in Cabo Delgado. I join many others in calling for his immediate release.

Abubacar’s ordeal is part of a pattern of government action against journalists in Cabo Delgado. The army held investigative journalist Estacio Valoi, Amnesty International researcher David Matsinhe, and their driver Girafe Said for two days in December without charge. Their phones and computers were confiscated (and have yet to be returned), putting their sources at risk of further extralegal persecution. Other journalists have been detained for shorter periods, and the Gabinete de Informação has refused accreditation to foreign journalists seeking to cover the conflict.

As a security matter, the government’s ongoing campaign against journalists in Cabo Delgado is as counterproductive as it is illegal. The government is acting as though its counterinsurgency effort benefits from severe restrictions on the free flow of information, but in reality the opposite is true. Civilians who have less access to information about the conflict are both less able to make smart choices to protect themselves from insurgent attacks and more susceptible to insurgent propaganda. Research also shows that civilians with access to more information networks are more likely to share information with the government, even when they are threatened by insurgents. A robust journalistic presence in Cabo Delgado would be a boon to civilians and soldiers alike.

Government efforts to replace the independent reporting with its own information about the conflict have failed. Even on questions as fundamental as the identity of insurgent leadership, the government has offered conflicting answers with no further explanation. In December 2017, police ascribed insurgent attacks to two Mozambicans: Nuro Adremane and Jafar Alawi. Then, in August 2018, police chief Bernardo Rafael listed ten other alleged insurgent leaders with no mention of Adremane or Alawi. Last week, prosecutors announced indictments against yet another set of alleged insurgent leaders: Tanzanians Chafim Mussa and Adamu Nhaungwa Yangue and the long-detained South African businessman Andre Hanekom. It is anyone’s guess who the government actually believes is directing attacks against its citizens.

Little is known publicly about the cases against Mussa and Yangue, but the allegations against Hanekom–that he ran logistics for the insurgency–appear dubious at best. He has been in custody since July but insurgent attacks have only expanded during that time, which is hardly the sign of a disrupted logistical pipeline. If the government is prosecuting Hanekom, who receives disproportionate press coverage due to his status as a white South African, on such apparently flimsy evidence, then what confidence can Mozambicans have that the detention of their countrymen, who are reportedly the targets of extrajudicial executions in Cabo Delgado jails, is justified?

When the state targets journalists like Abubacar with military action, it is making the claim that security is more important than press freedom. That claim is wrong wherever it is made, but it is particularly outrageous in Cabo Delgado. It is time for the Mozambican government to release Abubacar and open the conflict zone to journalists. When left to do their work, they are likely to produce better understanding of conditions on the ground than the government has yet managed.

Interactive map of attack locations


Larger attack markers indicate greater number of victims. Mouse over the markers for details of of the attacks.
Click here for a timeline of the attacks.

Here’s what happened in the last week in Cabo Delgado:

2 January: Insurgents kidnapped one person and badly injured another in an attack on Kulansi, Macomia district. Attackers also burned 2 tents and 20 huts. (Carta de Mocambique)

3 January: Prosecutors added 5 more names to the list of those indicted for insurgent activities, including three new alleged insurgent leaders:  Tanzanians Chafim Mussa and Adamu Nhaungwa Yangue and South African Andre Hanekom. (Observador)

5 January: Authorities arrested journalist Amade Abubacar in Macomia district, later transporting him to Mocimboa da Praia and eventually military detention in Mueda. He has not been formally charged with a crime. (O Pais)

6 January: Insurgents killed six women and a man after stopping the truck they were riding at a roadblock on the road between Palma and Pundanhar, Palma district. Insurgents reportedly proclaimed Pundanhar a “liberated zone” in which outsiders are no longer welcome. It was the first confirmed insurgent attack on a civilian vehicle in transit. (Carta de Mocambique)

6 January: Attackers burned houses inhabited by government employees in the village of Mussemuco, Macomia district. The insurgents reportedly entered and left the village by sea. No deaths have yet been reported, but Zitamar will update the map as new information becomes available. (Carta de Mocambique)

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