(Johannesburg) – Mozambique police officers have been implicated in the killing of an election observer in an escalation of violence that threatens national elections scheduled for October 15, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today.
On October 7, five alleged police officers in a car shot Anastancio Matavele, director of the Forum of NGOs for Gaza (FONGA), after he got into his vehicle following a training session for national election observers in Xai-Xai city, Gaza province. Matavele died from gunshot injuries later that day in a hospital.
“The apparent involvement of police in killing an election observer is a chilling development that casts a dark shadow over the Mozambican elections,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should see to it that there is a prompt and impartial investigation to ensure justice for Matavele and accountability for those responsible.”
A national police spokesman, Orlando Mudumane, told Human Rights Watch by phone from Maputo that the police were investigating five occupants of a Toyota vehicle from which bullets were allegedly fired. Four of the men, he said, are members of the national police force. After Matavele was shot, the Toyota sped away but soon overturned and crashed, killing two of the men. A third man was receiving medical treatment after police officers detained him. Two other occupants of the car fled the scene. The spokesman said that a police team had been appointed to investigate the killings, and that the findings would be available within two weeks.
Two local men who were among the first to arrive at the scene told Human Rights Watch that they recognized one of the dead assailants as a member of police special forces, Grupo de
Operações Especiais (Special Operations Group), in Gaza province. On October 8, Police Chief Bernardino Rafael suspended two senior officers over the killing pending investigations: Alfredo Macuacua, commander of the Riot Police of Gaza province, and Tudelo Guirrugo, head of the special forces in the province.
On October 15, Mozambique will hold its sixth presidential and parliamentary elections since 1994. Four presidential candidates and 26 parties are taking part in the election, the first without the longtime opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama, who died last year.
Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses and acts of violence in Gaza province since the start of the election campaign on August 31, including violations of the right to peaceful assembly and arbitrary arrests of opposition candidates.
On September 12, police detained the Nova Democracia (New Democracy) candidate for Gaza provincial governor, the well-known musician Refiller Boy, at the Chokwe district police command. He had gone there to file a complaint against supporters of the ruling Frelimo Party, who had prevented his party from holding a meeting in Xilembene. He was released the following day without charges.
On September 16, the police arrested a Renamo candidate for the national parliament, Heique Antonio Sitoe, in Manjacaze district after he posted a message on his Facebook page criticizing police misconduct during the election campaign. On October 2, governing party supporters prevented Daviz Simango, the mayor of Beira city and a presidential candidate, from holding a rally in a market in Chockwe district.
Election campaign violence has also hit other regions of the country, with law enforcement officers appearing incapable or unwilling to stop it or seriously investigate. A Renamo member, Celestina Bande, said that on the first night of the election campaign, August 31, in Moatize district, Frelimo supporters led by a party official attacked her at her house. Another Renamo party supporter told Human Rights Watch that two days later they had “retaliated” for the attack by going to the house of the Frelimo official and attacking his wife.
Five days after the start of the election campaign, on September 5, a group of men invaded the house of a primary school teacher in Zambezia, Aristides da Conceicao, during the night and beat him. His wife told Human Rights Watch over the phone:
They broke in the house just before midnight. We were sleeping. They immediately started beating my husband with machetes and sticks. One of the men told us to stop supporting the Renamo candidate before he left.
The same night, the house of the mother of Manuel de Araujo, the Renamo candidate for governor of Zambezia and mayor of Quelimane, was set on fire. She escaped unhurt.
Fair elections mean that all registered political parties have an equal right to put candidates forward, campaign for voter support, and hold peaceful meetings and rallies, Human Rights Watch said. The Mozambican Election Commission should take immediate measures to ensure that all parties are free from intimidation, physical attacks, and threats ahead of the parliamentary, presidential and provincial elections. All incidents of election-related violence should be promptly and impartially investigated, and those responsible appropriately held to account.
“Election violence severely undermines the credibility of elections and should be nipped in the bud,” Mavhinga said. “Mozambican authorities should swiftly act against all electoral violence to ensure an environment for free and fair elections.”