Mozambique: President Nyusi leaves for State Visit to Botswana
Photo: A Verdade
The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Wednesday passed the first reading of a bill revising the legal regime applicable to the prevention and repression of terrorism and connected crimes.
The bill establishes the procedures to designate individuals, groups and entities associated with terrorist crimes and to freeze their funds and assets. It seeks to embargo the movements of individuals associated with terrorism or suspected of financing terrorism.
Other aspects of the bill concern preventing radicalization, measures for electronic security and surveillance, criminalising public support for terrorism, and refusing to grant Mozambican nationality to those suspected of involvement in terrorist acts.
The bill only passed because of the absolute majority enjoyed by the ruling Frelimo Party in the Assembly. Both opposition parties, Renamo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), abstained because they objected to an article which could limit freedom of the press.
The controversial article says that anyone intentionally spreading information about a terrorist act, knowing that the information is false, will be punished with a prison term of between eight and 12 years.
The Assembly’s Commission on Constitutional and Legal Affairs softened this article with an amendment that reduced the proposed prison term to between two and eight years.
That was not enough for Renamo and the MDM, who wanted to scrap the entire article. However, they made clear that they had no objection to the rest of the bill.
Introducing the bill, the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Nyeleti Mondlane, said it is important to strengthen the legal framework for the fight against terrorism, since Mozambique is directly experiencing the cruel impact of terrorist attacks in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
She said that the bill also responds to the recommendations of international bodies and is in line with international conventions and resolutions of the United Nations Security Council on terrorism.
Last week, the Assembly passed unanimously a bill on preventing and fighting against money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Renamo and the MDM had no objection to this bill. “These bills are complementary and strengthen each other”, said Mondlane.
The Mozambican chapter of the regional press freedom body MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) shared the misgivings of the opposition parties. The provision of a prison term of 12 to 16 years for anyone who publishes “classified information” about terrorism, MISA pointed out, punishes journalists and ordinary citizens rather than those officials who have the duty to safeguard state secrets.
As for jailing those who knowingly publish false information, MISA argued that the terms used in the bill “are very subjective and liable to varying interpretations of the notion of false news”. As it stood, this article in the bill could be used to outlaw any debate about terrorism and associated phenomena.
MISA warned that the ambiguous wording of the bill could lead to arbitrary behaviour by those who want to obstruct the development of the media, of human rights defenders and of civil society organisations. It could roll back the gains made under 2014 law on Freedom of Information.