Libel case against “Mediafax” revived

The Mozambican Public Prosecutor’s Office has revived charges of libel arising from severe criticisms of former President Armando Guebuza published in some of the Mozambican press.

Armando Guebuza
Armando Guebuza

The criticisms were initially posted by prominent academic Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco on his Facebook page. The newsheets “Mediafax” and “Canal de Mocambique” picked up Castel-Branco’s post and republished it.

“Mediafax” editor Fernando Mbanze was summoned on Tuesday to the public prosecutor’s office in the Maputo municipal district of Kapfumu. Accompanied by a lawyer, he obeyed the summons and was told that he was now an accused person.

The charge dates from December 2013, about a month after “Mediafax” had republished Castel-Branco’s Facebook post.

Mbanze told AIM he does not know what law he is being charged under. He said the prosecutor did not give him this information.

However, under Mozambican legislation libeling the head of state is a security offence, and when prosecutors interviewed Castel-Branco in May 2014, it was clear that he was being charged with crimes against state security.

That case should have been dropped because of the Amnesty Law passed by the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, in August 2014. The amnesty applied to all security offences committed between March 2012 and the date of the law.

The amnesty was an essential prelude to the agreement of 5 September on a cessation of hostilities between the government and the rebel movement Renamo. But the law does not apply solely to members of Renamo or of the national defence and security forces.

It covers all security offences committed between the relevant dates. That must include the case against Castel-Branco and the editors of the papers who reprinted his post.

Guebuza is no longer head of state, but if the prosecutors wish to charge Mbanze under the ordinary law of libel, and not the law on security offences, they will have changed horses half way through the race.

Castel Branco’s Facebook post took the form of an open letter to Guebuza, and although it used hostile language, he has always denied that it was defamatory. At the time he was questioned, in May 2014, his lawyer, Alice Mabota told reporters that Castel-Branco had not published the letter in the normal sense of the term. He had merely posted it on Facebook, which she did not regard as a publication. If other people had picked it up from Facebook and printed the letter in various of the Mozambican media, that was not her client’s responsibility.

“I am not aware of any law in Mozambique that prohibits citizens from discussing ideas with their friends on Facebook”, said Mabota.

“Mediafax” believes that the libel charges have also been revived against Castel-Branco and against the director of “Canal de Mocambique”, Fernando Veloso, both of whom happen to be out of the country.

Post published in: Africa News

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