Fears grow for Mozambican election monitors secretly transferred to new prison

Amnesty International says it has learned that 18 Mozambican election monitors who have spent a month in incommunicado detention were last night secretly transferred to a different prison, raising serious concerns for their safety.

The 18 individuals were arrested while monitoring the 15 October elections. Authorities are reported to have moved them from a prison in Guijá district to Xai-Xai district without informing their lawyers or family members.

“The ongoing arbitrary detention of this group of election monitors is a travesty. They have spent over a month in overcrowded cells where they are denied access to lawyers and cut off from their families, simply for doing their jobs,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.

“Their transfer to a prison 154 kilometres away is an alarming development and appears to be a deliberate attempt by the authorities to obscure details of their whereabouts and treatment. Moving them so far means that they will be more isolated from their families and their lawyers. We are urging the Mozambican authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all 18 election monitors.” added Muchena

In the aftermath of Mozambique’s October 2018 municipal elections, civil society leaders, human rights defenders and activists, religious bodies and the media were targeted for harassment and intimidation, including receiving death threats for their role in monitoring and disseminating the results following the elections. The detention of election monitors is part of a growing trend of suppression of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and media freedom in Mozambique.

The election monitors are from the opposition party New Democracy (ND), one of the parties which contested the provincial elections in Gaza province in Chokwe district. They were arrested in Chokwe district while monitoring the voting process in the general elections held on 15 October. They were accused of falsifying election monitoring credentials and detained at various polling stations.

Police then took them to the neighbouring Guijá district penitentiary where they were detained until last night. Sources who were able to establish contact with the detainees have been kept incommunicado, questioned without lawyers, denied any visits, including family visits, and interrogated to confess to wrongdoing. They are yet to be charged one month later.

The detainees were allegedly held in extremely overcrowded cells and forced to perform all their ablutions in the same cell. Six of the detainees are students who have been missing their lectures and are likely to miss their final exams and academic year. Seven are mothers and fathers who have been deprived of seeing their children and spouses.

“There are absolutely no legal grounds for the continued detention of these 18 individuals who are being detained solely for doing their jobs. They should not have spent a single night in detention and must be immediately and unconditionally released,”

“Mozambican authorities must open the civic space and stop treating human rights with contempt.” Muchena appealed.