Ibraimo Mbaruco, a reporter for Rádio Comunitária de Palma, a community radio station in Palma, a remote coastal town in Cabo Delgado province, has been missing ever since 7 April when, in his last message, he said he was “surrounded by military.” None of the officials with whom the case has been raised, from the head of the Cabo Delgado provincial police to Mozambique’s prosecutor-general, has provided any indication at all as to what may have happened to him.
When Mbaruco’s brother tried calling his mobile phone on 8 June, it rang for the first time since his disappearance. He reported this to the National Agency for Criminal Investigations (SERNIC), which is supposed to be investigating his disappearance. The investigators promise to identify the phone’s location but the family has not heard back from them.
There has been an Islamist insurrection in Cabo Delgado province since 2017. Hundreds of people have died in fighting between the army and rebels, while thousands have been displaced, and the authorities have done everything possible to prevent journalists from entering the region in order to cover the situation.
“The silence from the authorities about this case of a journalist missing for the past three months is intolerable for the family, and we are determined to find out what happened to him,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “This is not the first time reporters have been roughed up, attacked or detained and held incommunicado in this province, which has been subject to growing violence in recent years. Is Ibraimo Mbaruco dead? Who were the soldiers surrounding him at the time of his last message? Is he being held and, if so where and on what grounds? There are many questions to which the Mozambican authorities must finally respond.”
Three weeks after Mbaruco went missing, RSF and 16 other human rights and press freedom organizations addressed an open letter to President Filipe Nyusi requesting a thorough and transparent investigation into his disappearance. No government or military official has so far reacted and all requests for information have gone unanswered.
Amade Abubacar and Germano Daniela Adriano, two journalists working for local radio and TV station Nacedje in Cabo Delgado’s Macomia district, were detained in a completely illegal manner by the army for several months in early 2019. Since their release in April 2019, they have continued to be charged with “spreading messages damaging to the Mozambican Armed Forces.”
The clampdown on information and arbitrary arrests of journalists in Cabo Delgado are the main reason why Mozambique has fallen sharply in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index in recent years. It is ranked 104th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Index, its worst ranking since the Index was created in 2002.