Nestled into Africa’s eastern coast, with Malawi at the northern border and South Africa to the south, you will find Mozambique, the former Portuguese colony that is now home to more than thirty million people. Despite their remote location and under-developed infrastructure Mozambique has been hit by COVID-19 just the same as many other countries. The newspaper Club Mozambique reports just under 500 cases of COVID and only two deaths. As a preventative measure Mozambique’s government imposed restrictions consistent with other countries, the typical shelter in place with exceptions for essential workers or essential errands. With these restrictions in mind there was a report of a clear infraction of the social distancing in the lobby of a hotel where many people were enjoying the company of others and having a couple drinks, as reported by Club Mozambique.
This hotel lobby has been rumored to have been photographed by journalists Arsénio Sebastião, who works for the German news company Deutsche Welle, and Jorge Malangaze, a freelancer. The property manager of the hotel got wind of the photographs and sought out a solution to ensure that his hotel would not be subject to discipline for violating the state mandated social distancing. This solution was simply a bribe of roughly 65 euros to prevent the photographs from being published, however, upon handing the money to Sebastião and Malangaze an arrest soon followed.
Sebastião and Malangaze were deemed to be complicit in passive corruption and thus warranted the arrest, but the two were released just a week later. During an interview while he was still in jail, Sebastião did not reject taking the photographs, but stated that he never asked for money, and instead was given money and told not to publish the photos and then was arrested. Sebastião continued on to say that this was a planned ambush and was in no way related to the social distancing violation.
Upon the release of both Sebastião and Malangaze the court reported that there is insufficient evidence that the journalists blackmailed the hotel manager as well as insufficient evidence the two even accepted the money that was handed to them, as reported by GhanaWeb. The court continues on to say that the arrests may have been means to an end of a different goal, the suppression of media.
Further research uncovers a brief history of Sebastião’s articles in Mozambique, where he authored a few pieces that are critical of the governing party. One such article published in 2016 highlights the discovery of a mass grave with many of the dead presuming to have been a part of anti-government militias. This article among others highlight potential shortcomings of the government or even their outright corruption and human rights violations and thus has put Sebastião on a short-list of media personnel that pose a threat to the government.
Sebastião’s history of criticism of the Mozambican government gives reason to believe Sebastião when he claims this arrest was nothing more than an ambush. Perhaps the overcrowded hotel lobby and the bribery were part of a crime fabricated by the government in order to have seemingly legitimate reason to arrest an innocent journalist who happens to be critical of the government. The irony of the passive corruption charge on journalists not reporting on a potentially fabricated situation created by the government calls into question just how corrupt the ruling party is. However, the release of these two men shows that corruption has not infiltrated the courts as well.
The court announced they also will pursue an investigation into the events that led to the arrests of Sebastião and Malangaze, reports GhanaWeb. A thorough and fair investigation may lead to a broader investigation into the government, specifically into the antics of the governing party FRELIMO.