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Mozambican journalist receives international prize for press freedom

A sample of newspapers published in Mozambique | Photo taken by Dércio Tsandzana and used with permission of the author on 08.23.2018

In mid-June 2021, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), based in New York, decided to award the press freedom prize to four journalists, including Mozambican Matias Guente, editor of the weekly Canal de Moçambique.

Matias faced “violence, harassment, repression, and persecution, but refused to back down” on his mission, as CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement.

The CPJ is a committee of journalists based in the United States. In the decision, members of the organization noted that Matias Guente is a journalist who “over the years has faced a series of threats for his harsh reporting, including police interrogations, accusations of rape, state secrecy, and conspiracy and an attempted kidnapping in 2019.”

With the award, Matias becomes the first journalist in Mozambique to be recognized by a high-level international journalism panel.

According to the organization Reporters Without Borders, Mozambique is ranked 108th out of 180 countries in the World Freedom of Expression ranking. In 2013, the year the analysis began, the country was ranked 73. The organization points to political interference in the local media plus administrative and financial restrictions as the main reason for the decline.

Furthermore, media professionals in Mozambique have increasingly been facing attacks. The One Free Press Coalition named the disappearance of journalist Ibraimo Abu Mbaruco, from Palma, Cabo Delgado, as the most serious press freedom violation in the world. Mbaruco disappeared in April 2020 after he covered a conflict that has been taking place in Northern Mozambique since 2017.

2020: The newspaper fire

In August 2020, another attack on the press occurred in Mozambique. Unidentified individuals invaded the Canal de Moçambique and set furniture and equipment on fire. The newspaper staff refused to be silent and set up an outdoor newsroom the next day.

Freedom of expression and of the press has just suffered a double blow today. Journalist Armando Nenane was detained by police authorities. Meanwhile, the Jornal Independente @Canal_Moz was set on fire.

— Tomás Queface (@tomqueface) August 23, 2020

At the time, the attack against the newspaper directed by Guente was condemned by the President of the Republic:

Condeno veementemente os ataques ao “Canal de Moçambique” perpetrados por desconhecidos na noite de ontem, dia 23 de Agosto de 2020.

A Liberdade de Imprensa é um pilar da democracia e conquista dos moçambicanos que deve ser protegida. Instruímos as autoridades a investigar e trazer os perpetradores à barra da Justiça.

I strongly condemn the attacks on the “Canal de Moçambique” carried out by strangers last night, August 23, 2020.

Freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy and conquest of Mozambicans that must be protected. We will instruct authorities to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Before that, the same editor had escaped an attack that was presumed to be a failed kidnapping:

Matias managed to escape such an act unharmed, although he was subsequently hospitalized for medical care. More than two years later, the perpetrators are still unknown.

Reactions after the award

Angela Quintal, the coordinator of the press freedom program for Africa, congratulated the editor for the award:

In addition to congratulating the achievement, the University Professor, José Macuane, said that the award was an indication for those who affect the freedom of expression and press of Mozambicans:

Matias Guente, parabéns pela sua nomeação ao Prémio Internacional de Liberdade de Imprensa. Merecedíssimo. Vocês que brincam de restringir liberdades de imprensa e de outros tipos, que se divertem com o projecto de tornar a vida dos vossos compatriotas num inferno, essa é bem na vossa cara!

E também a prova de que o mundo está a vos ver e pode ser tornar num lugarzinho bem inóspito para vocês. Já têm exemplos suficientes para aprenderem da história.

Matias Guente, congratulations on your nomination for the International Press Freedom Award. Well deserved. You who play at restricting press and other freedoms, who have fun with the project of making your countrymen's lives hell, that's right in your face!

And also proof that the world is watching you and it can become a very inhospitable place for you. They already have enough examples to learn from history.

Tom Bowker also congratulated Matias Guente. Bowker is one of the journalists who was deported from the country at the beginning of 2021 for allegedly carrying out illegal activities. He owns a communication portal, Cabo Delgado, that has extensively reported on the conflict in Northern Mozambique.

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