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Mozambique urged to free 18 monitors arrested during October vote

The 18 were arrested in Gaza province in southern Mozambique as polling was about to open on 15 October after allegations their accreditation was 'false'.

National Electoral Commission (CNE) officials check a voter's ID at Munhava Central Primary School in Beira, Mozambique on 15 October 2019. Picture: AFP

MAPUTO, Mozambique - Mozambique must free 18 voting monitors arrested during last month's disputed election, a group of 30 African and international civil society and rights groups said on Wednesday.

Incumbent Filipe Nyusi won a new five-year term after his Frelimo party secured 73% of the vote. But the credibility of the results has been questioned by the European Union and various other local and international observer groups.

The 18 were arrested in Gaza province in southern Mozambique as polling was about to open on 15 October after allegations their accreditation was "false".

The group, from the opposition New Democracy party, were arrested in the same province where Anastacio Matavele, 58, the head of a local election observation mission, was shot dead days before the election.

"We ...urge the Mozambican authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the 18 delegates," said the organisations which included Amnesty International, Freedom House, Southern Africa Litigation Centre and dozens others of regional, Mozambican and Angolan rights organisations.

"The detention of the 18 is part of a growing trend of suppression of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and displays contempt for accountability mechanisms," they said.

The groups said the detainees had been denied access to lawyers and "forced to confess to wrongdoing".

Party spokesman Quiteria Guirengane told AFP that the arrests present "a scenario of political persecution and torture of democracy".

"It is a clear message that it is forbidden to be part of any party that is not the ruling party," said Guirengane.

Gaza provincial prosecutor's spokesman Luis Vianeque said the 18 were arrested for holding false credentials.

"These citizens are indicted for committing a forgery and this crime is punishable ...with a sentence ranging from two to eight years in prison," he told a news conference.

Last week the country's Constitutional Court dismissed a petition by Renamo, an ex-rebel group that turned into the largest opposition party, to annul the results.

The Constitutional Court also refused to consider a complaint from the ND party on the arrest of the 18, arguing the case was a criminal and not an electoral one.

The election posed a major challenge to the country's already fragile peace agreement between Frelimo and Renamo who fought a civil war from 1975-1992 that left one million dead

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