As presiding judge Joao Almeida Guilherme, of the Kampfumo urban district court, delivered the verdict from the panel of three judges, the courtroom burst into applause with cries of â€œLong live freedom of expression!â€, â€œLong live justice!â€ and â€œThereâ€™s hope for the country yet!â€
The case arose from a post which Castel-Branco put on his Facebook page in November 2013, severely criticizing Guebuzaâ€™s governance and calling on him to resign. Two papers, â€œMediafaxâ€ and the weekly â€œCanal de Mocambiqueâ€, republished Carlos-Brancoâ€™s text.
The Public Prosecutorâ€™s office regarded the article as libelous and, since libeling the head of state and other senior political figures is considered a security offence, Castel-Branco was charged under the law on crimes against state security. Mbanze was accused of the nebulous offence of â€œabuse of press freedomâ€ under the 1991 press law.
Initially, the director of â€œCanal de Mocambiqueâ€, Fernando Veloso, was also accused, but since he is currently undergoing medical treatment in Portugal he was not in the dock. Nor was any attempt made to try him in absentia.
The court analysed in detail Castel-Brancoâ€™s Facebook post â€“ and could find nothing libelous in it. Judge Gulherme said that Castel-Branco had simply been giving his opinion about the way Guebuza ran the country. Other people might find his criticisms uncomfortable, but that did not make them a crime.
Guilherme went through the article almost line by line, looking at all the points the prosecution had found libelous. To the court, Castel-Brancoâ€™s words fell within the boundaries of freedom of expression, and were protected by the Constitution.
The prosecution considered the very first line of the article â€“ â€œMr President, you are out of controlâ€ â€“ as libelous and untrue. But Guilherme declared â€œhowever much discomfort this may cause, itâ€™s no crime at all, just a criticismâ€.
Ruling such assertions criminal would put the court â€œon the list of the most undemocratic organizationsâ€, he said.
Even Castel-Brancoâ€™s references to fascism were not libelous. Guilherme noted that the article did not call Guebuza a fascist, but asked a rhetorical question â€œAre you (Guebuza) preparing to make this a completely fascist state?â€
He did not regard this as a matter for the courts at all. â€œTo characterize the government as fascist might be an exaggeration, but it is not a crimeâ€, he said. â€œItâ€™s the opinion of the accused. Others may have different opinionsâ€.
Castel-Branco wrote that Guebuza had surrounded himself â€œwith bootlickers who lie to you every day, who invent false reports, and give advice based on false premisesâ€. But the court regarded the term â€œbootlickingâ€ as just a synonym for flattery, and noted that it was common in todayâ€™s political parlance. Again, Guilherme thought that Castel-Branco was entitled to express his views, even if the language he used was exaggerated.
Some of the accusations against Guebuza which the prosecution regarded as libelous were factually true. Castel-Branco had referred to the appointment of a convicted criminal â€œto command one of the main police units in the centre of the countryâ€.
This matter was in the public domain. Guilherme pointed out, Castel-Branco had made â€œa legitimate criticism, and itâ€™s reasonable to expect the government to clarify thisâ€.
Similarly with Castel-Brancoâ€™s references to Guebuzaâ€™s personal wealth â€“ Guilherme said it was public knowledge that, in addition to his political life, Guebuza had business interests, and the former president had never hidden this fact. Furthermore, the mentions of Guebuza â€œappropriatingâ€ wealth were â€œtoo vagueâ€ to constitute libel.
The claim that Guebuza had divided Mozambicans â€œin racial and ethnic, regional and tribal, religious and political termsâ€ was not unique to Castel-Branco. Guilherme noted that Guebuza had indeed publicly used terms such as â€œMocambicanos de gemaâ€ (which roughly translates as â€œMozambicans at heartâ€ or â€œtrue Mozambicansâ€).
Among those who made criticisms similar to Castel-Brancoâ€™s was the countryâ€™s best known writer, the novelist and poet Mia Couto. Guilhermc cited the criticisms of Guebuza made by Couto, on 3 September in his speech made when accepting an honorary doctorate.
Couto had warned against the Mozambican tendency of being â€œselectively deaf. We listen to those who are close to us, those who obey us, those whom we like hearing. We listen to those from our own party, above all those who do not criticize us. Everything else does not exist, everything else is a lie, everything else is slander. Everything else is said by â€˜â€™the othersâ€™â€™â€
The language used by Castel-Branco might be regarded as â€œimpertinent and vulgar, but the law does not deal with mere impertinence and vulgarityâ€, the judge declared.
As for the republication by â€œMediafaxâ€, if Castel-Branco had committed no crime, than neither had Mbanze by reprinting his post, Guilherme ruled.
After declaring the two men acquitted, Guilherme added that, however tough some people might find the language used in the article, â€œit is perfectly acceptable in a democracyâ€.
â€œPeople have the right to give their opinions on how the President is governing the countryâ€, he added.
The prosecution has announced it will not appeal against the acquittals.Post published in: Africa News