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Teresa Lima - Portuguese For Africa

Reporter's Story

I travelled to Mozambique to cover the situation in the prisons and the living conditions of the detainees; and organised crime.


Montpuez, November 2000

In November 2000, there was a demonstration in Montepuez, a small city in the north of the country. It was organised by the opposition against the ruling Frelimo Mozambique National Front) government. The protest ended in a confrontation with the police. Both policemen and demonstrators were shot.

The police arrested and imprisoned people. They put them in a tiny cell. There were too many people though and one person died in the cell, asphyxiated. I don't have exact figures but activists say about 100 people died.

There was an outcry in the country and outside of it.

Amnesty International has called on the government of Mozambique to ensure that an investigation into those deaths is independent and carried out by quaified experts.

This issue is very much alive; the government did not publish a single name of the people who died in the cell.

The widow of one of the prisoners told me that her husband had demonstrated against the government because he sympathised with Renamo, the Mozambique National Resistance Movement. He was jailed and died in prison. She was resigned to her situation. Her attitude was, "What can I do?" She has four children and does not receive financial support.

Making a Difference

In October 2002, Mozambique marked the 10th anniversary of the peace accord between the ruling Frelimo party and Renamo, the opposition party. Official ceremonies were held and speeches were given in Maputo and other cities.

There is a need for talks to explain what happened during the civil war and to create awareness about the deaths in Montpuez.



Cardoso's Assassination

Carlos Cardoso, a leading journalist from Mozambique, worked in the capital and was the editor of an independent newspaper, Metical. He spoke against the demonstration and the death of the protesters in Montpuez.

He was investigating corruption in the banking system when he was murdered. He was shot dead on the street in November, 2000, days after the deaths in Montpuez. It was like a gangster-style killing. Some people were detained but the main suspects of Cardoso's assassination escaped from the prison in September 2002.

Making a Difference

I interviewed his widow, Nina Berg. She's a Norwegian lawyer and works in a legal reform project, supported by DANIDA, the Danish International Development Agency. She has actively made her husband's case known to the public. Cardoso was a respected journalist. He was expelled from South Africa during Apartheid; he was also very well known in Sweden and Norway.

I also spoke to Alice Mabota, the president of the Human Rights League. She's a very outspoken lawyer; very vocal about organised crime.

Mabota said Cardoso and the economist Siba Siba Macuacua, the director of Banco Austral, were murdered because they were speaking against corruption. Siba Siba was assassinated three days before he published a report on corruption involving government and political figures.



Chicken Robbers

Mozambique has a small prison population, only about 2,000 prisoners in a population of 16 million people. Compared to the rest of Africa, that figure is small. However, the prisoners are mostly people involved in petty crimes. We have an expression, they are chicken robbers.

I visited two prisons. The majority of the detained are people who are waiting for a trial; they are forgotten in the prison cells.

I met a young man who was with a friend at a funfair. He said, "We were a bit drunk and we had a row. They arrested me. I've been here for six months."

The detainees don't have access to counsel. I asked him, "Has someone come to speak to you about your situation?" The answer was no.

Forgotten Places

The conditions in prison are very basic. There are a lot of people living in each cell, there can be two to 10 people.

The guards in the prisons suffer too. They don't have food or blankets. The prisons are forgotten places.

Making a Difference

The judicial system has faults; it doesn't work. There is a lack of staff and resources.

There's also a duality in the judicial system. Some prisons are dealt with by the Home Affairs Ministry and others fall under the Justice Ministry.

There is some hope though. There is a political will to change things.

I interviewed two lawyers, Aires Mota do Amaral and Fracesca Dagnino, who are working in a project by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to try to reform this dual system. It's called the Prison System Reform Project. These lawyers speak about the roots of the problem and make recommendations.