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Is Mozambique trying to expel a foreign journalist?

Tom Bowker speaks with South Africa's SABC news in December 2020. Image: YouTube screenshot from SABC's channel.

British journalist Tom Bowker was verbally ordered to leave Mozambique at the end of January, one month after authorities revoked his foreign correspondent accreditation.

Bowker is the founder of the news website Zitamar News, which reports Mozambican politics and economics in English. In recent years, the website has been praised for its coverage of the armed conflict in the Cabo Delgado province through the Cabo Ligado project.

According to the newsletter of veteran Mozambique chronicler Joseph Hanlon, Bowker was summoned to immigration services on 25 January, where he was told, in the presence of his lawyer, to leave the country within five days.

On February 3, however, Bowker was still in Mozambique. According to Evidências news site, which says it has briefly spoken with the journalist, the deportation order was “merely verbal” and his residence permit is still valid.

Bowker has lived in Mozambique with his son and wife since 2014.

According to a note by Mozambique's Information Bureau (GABINFO), the government authority in charge of registering journalists, Bowker's accreditation was revoked because he was “unable to provide documents proving” Zitamar News’ registration abroad.

The note was reproduced by Evidências:

Diferentemente de outras agências noticiosas, que têm sede num determinado país e correspondentes em vários países do mundo, incluindo Moçambique, a Zitamar News tinha como sede o nosso país e vinha produzindo e editando os seus conteúdos informativos a partir de Maputo, o que contraria o espírito da Lei na qual assenta a qualidade correspondente de um órgão de comunicação social estrangeiro.

Diante dessas dúvidas, Bowker, quando solicitado, não conseguiu provar documentalmente a ligação entre a Zitamar News e a Zitamar LP (esta última empresa encontra-se registada na Inglaterra e desenvolve actividades de prestação de serviços, incluindo de informação), embora tenha sido por ele identificada como sendo a empresa proprietária da Zitamar News, na base da qual lhe fora atribuída a acreditação.

Perante as irregularidades verificadas, o GABINFO solicitou a devolução do cartão de acreditação como jornalista estrangeiro emitido a favor do senhor Thomas Andrew Bowker, com as suas devidas consequências legais.

Unlike other news agencies, which are based in a particular country and maintain correspondents in several other countries around the world, including Mozambique, Zitamar News was based in our country and was producing and editing news out of Maputo, which contradicts the spirit of the Law defining the quality of correspondent of foreign media outlets.

In light of this context, Bowker, when requested, was unable to provide documents proving the connection between Zitamar News and Zitamar LP (the latter a company registered in the United Kingdom that provides services, among them information services), identified by him as the parent company of Zitamar News and on for which the accreditation was granted.

In view of these irregularities, GABINFO has requested the rescindment of Mr. Thomas Andrew Bowker's accreditation card as a foreign journalist, with all the due legal consequences.

MISA-Mozambique, a press freedom advocacy group, issued a statement condemning the authorities’ act:

O MISA-Moçambique manifesta sua profunda preocupação e repúdio perante a decisão do Governo de expulsar o jornalista e editor.

De particular preocupação está o facto de a decisão ter sido tomada de forma arbitrária, sem o seguimento dos procedimentos legais que, quanto ao MISA, eram pertinentes para este caso, como, por exemplo, a não fundamentação da decisão, assim como a sua transmissão por via oral, sem qualquer documento oficial escrito.

Deixa transparecer que se esteja a usar as instituições do Estado para a movimentação de expedientes políticos de manifesta ilegalidade.

MISA-Mozambique expresses its deep concern with and objection to the government's decision to expel the journalist and editor.

Of particular concern is the fact that the decision was made arbitrarily, without following the legal procedures that, for MISA, were relevant in this case. The decision had no legal basis and it was communicated verbally, without any official written document.

It appears that the state institutions are being used for political demands.

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