(Johannesburg) – Mozambique authorities should urgently locate a journalist who has been missing since April 7, 2020 in the embattled northern province of Cabo Delgado, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. Before he was reported missing, Ibrahimo Abu Mbaruco had sent a text message about soldiers near his house in the town of Palma, raising concerns that he has been forcibly disappeared.
Mbaruco, a journalist and newscaster at Palma Community Radio Station, was on his way home from work on the evening of April 7 when he met a group of soldiers, his brother said. He sent a text message to a colleague around 6 p.m. asking him to call because the soldiers were harassing him. When the colleague tried to call, Mbaruco’s phone went unanswered.
“Ibrahimo Mbaruco’s apparent forced disappearance is of grave concern, particularly given the Mozambican security forces’ alarming record of wrongfully detaining journalists,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Mozambican government should urgently take all necessary steps to locate Mbaruco and ensure his safe release.”
Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution.
Fighting has taken place in Cabo Delgado province since October 2017, when an Islamist armed group known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a or Al-Shabab attacked a police station in Mocimboa da Praia. The armed group has since carried out more than 350 attacks, leaving over 115,000 people displaced. Security forces involved in operations against the group have been implicated in serious human rights abuses, including intimidation, arbitrarily arrests, and ill-treatment of detainees.
Mbaruco’s enforced disappearance comes amid growing evidence that Mozambican security forces have continued to harass, intimidate, and arbitrarily detain journalists covering fighting between government forces and the armed group.
On April 14, police officers detained Hizidine Acha, a journalist for SOICO, the largest Mozambican private media group, for two hours and forced him to delete images on his phone and camera. The images allegedly showed the officers beating people. A police spokesman was later quoted by Zitamar News saying that Acha was temporarily detained because he had not identified himself as a journalist before taking the pictures of the officers.
On January 5, 2019, the police arrested Amade Abubacar, a journalist, in Macomia district for documenting attacks by armed groups against civilians in Cabo Delgado province. Two weeks later, on January 18, police arrested Germano Adriano, a journalist at the community radio and television station Nacedje. Both Abubacar and Adriano were detained for three months without charge, then released on bail.
Since June 2018, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented many other cases in which government forces barred various media organizations and correspondents from visiting the province, while security forces detained or arrested journalists who entered the province on bogus charges.
“Mozambican journalists should not live in fear of detention or abduction for doing their job,” said Deprose Muchena, southern Africa director at Amnesty International. “The government must promptly, thoroughly, transparently, and effectively investigate the enforced disappearance of Ibraimo Mbaruco. The authorities must take urgent measures to stop security forces from harassing and intimidating journalists, and those found to be doing so must be held to account.”