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Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi should not sign amendments to the country’s anti-terror legislation into law and should instead ask parliament to change a sweeping clause that could criminalize reporting about the insurgency in northern Mozambique, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Tuesday..
On 3 June, the Mozambican parliament sent the draft amendment to anti-terrorism legislation to Filipe Nyusi to obtain his consent, António Boene, chairman of the National Assembly’s Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee, told CPJ via messages quoted in the organisation’s statement.
The bill, approved by parliament on 19 May, aims to amend the 2018 anti-terrorism law in Mozambique, including a clause that would penalise, with a prison sentence of between two and eight years, those who publicly reproduce false statements related to terrorist acts, according to media reports and a statement from the Mozambican section of the regional press freedom group of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) – Mozambique.
“Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi must not sign the anti-terror amendment bill into law, but should instead return it to the National Assembly to correct the defects and ensure that reporting on the insurgency in Cabo Delgado is not criminalized or censored,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa programme coordinator, quoted in the statement.
“Members of parliament have already watered down other controversial clauses in the bill, but the president must ensure they go a step further to protect media freedom and the public’s right to information, instead of trying to control the narrative in Mozambique’s ongoing fight against terrorism,” she added.
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi should not sign amendments to the country’s anti-terror legislation into law and should instead ask parliament to change a sweeping clause that could criminalize reporting about the insurgency in northern #Mozambique.https://t.co/i9ohLXqovo
— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) June 7, 2022
The Mozambican government has said that the changes are necessary to strengthen the legal framework for fighting terrorism due to the ongoing insurgency and terrorist attacks in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, according to reports by Mozambique’s state news agency (AIM) and a government document, consulted by CPJ, which was presented in the National Assembly in March 2022, the statement said.
On 18 May, the parliament approved the draft amendment to the anti-terrorism law, stating that anyone who intentionally divulges information about a terrorist act, if they know the information to be false, can be punished with between eight and 12 years in prison.
MISA-Mozambique called on the Mozambican parliament on 17 May to amend these clauses, arguing that they threaten press freedom.
In addition, it considered that criminalising the publication of classified information penalised journalists and ordinary citizens rather than officials who failed in their duty to protect state secrets.
The organisation also opposed the false information clause, arguing that its wording was ambiguous and had the potential to be applied arbitrarily.
At the bill’s second reading on 19 May, the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee watered down these two clauses by criminalising the disclosure of confidential information only by public servants rather than citizens in general. It reduced the prison sentence to between two and eight years for violating the false information clause.
The head of MISA-Mozambique, Ernesto Saúl, told CPJ that despite efforts by the National Assembly to amend some clauses, the proposed law could still harm the exercise of journalism, especially by punishing those who publicly reproduce statements about acts of terrorism.
Emília Moiane, director of the information office of the Mozambican government, for her part, said in a telephone statement to CPJ that she does not believe that the proposed law violates the right to press freedom since one of the principles of journalism is to publish only the truth.
“We believe that journalists follow that principle. Terrorism is not a matter to talk about without certainty,” said Moiane, who did not say when the president was expected to consider the bill.