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March organiser tells of torture ordeal at hands of Mozambique’s police

Police drive around Maputo on 18 March 2023. Photo: Zitamar News

A young man was kidnapped and severely tortured by police officers in Nampula last weekend, following his role in organising a peaceful march in honour of rapper Azagaia.

Gamito dos Santos Carlos was abducted at around 1pm on Saturday, a few hours after police had disrupted the march by firing tear gas at the participants, he told Zitamar News in an interview on Tuesday.

As in other cities around the country, including Maputo, Beira and Xai-Xai, the municipal authorities had agreed to the march taking place, and the police were informed in good time, but did not make a statement until Saturday morning, when they moved heavily armed contingents to the locations designated for the marchers to gather.

Hundreds of people were affected by tear gas fired by the police where marches were planned to take place, social activist Cidia Chissungo, the main organiser of the marches, said on Tuesday. Dozens of people were injured while fleeing, and others because of beatings by police officers, she added.

The bruised buttocks of Gamito dos Santos Carlos
The bruised buttocks of Gamito dos Santos Carlos, who says he was beaten and tortured by police for his role in organising a march in Nampula on 18 March 2023. Photo supplied by Gamito dos Santos Carlos

There were also dozens of people detained, such as Gamito dos Santos who said he was picked up at a restaurant in Nampula city by the special forces group who took him to the provincial police district command in Nampula. From there, he was blindfolded and transported to another, unknown location, where he was stripped of all his clothes and tortured for two hours.

“They hosed hot water at me, and delivered blows against my entire body, including kicks with boots on my head and genitals,” he said. “All this happened while I was blindfolded and hands tied,” he explained, saying that the officers made clear that he was being beaten for organising and mobilising people for the march.

At 3pm he was returned to the police command, where he was detained until close to 8pm with no right to communication, and denied water to drink. He was then transferred to a local police station, from where he would be released at 11am on Sunday, without his belongings, including a phone, which he only recovered on Tuesday. He has also written about his ordeal on Facebook.

Police violence also occurred in Maputo, where tear gas canisters shot by police severely injured two young men in the eyes, causing both of them to permanently lose sight in one eye.

Police claim ‘ indications of a violent march’

The police spokesman in Nampula denied that Gamito had been tortured, saying that force was only used when he was resisting arrest. Zacarias Nacute said Gamito was detained because he was a threat to public order.

Gamito, however, completely dismisses the police version.

“None of what the police said is the truth,” Gamito told Zitamar. “I have torture marks on my body that prove what I say.”

Deputy police commander general, Fernando Tsucana, said in Maputo on Tuesday that although the marches had municipal permits, the police found that there were strong indications that the peaceful demonstrations would turn violent, and decided to cancel them.

However, he said, demonstrators disobeyed the police authorities, uttering insults, throwing blunt objects, physically confronting police officers and in some cases even attempting to seize firearms. He also alleged that some participants were under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

Dinis Manhique, who lost an eye when he was hit by a tear gas canister shot by police. Source: Facebook

However, none of the many videos and images circulating on social media give any credence to Tsucana’s claims. Journalists and social activists are unanimous in stating that firing tear gas was the police’s initiative, in order to disperse the demonstrators.

Another reason why the police prevented the march, according to Tsucana, was the presence of political actors such as Venâncio Mondlane of the MDM; Manuel de Araújo of Renamo; Quitéria Guirengane of Nova Democracia, João Massango of the Ecologist party, and others.

However, as Guirengane said, there is nothing in the constitution of the republic of Mozambique which prohibits political agents from taking part in peaceful marches.

As usual, the police did not take questions from journalists after making their statement.

Excessive use of police force

The 36 people who were arrested on Saturday were all victims of arbitrary arrests, according to the Mozambican Bar Association, which says that police repression not only violates the fundamental rights of citizens, but also puts democracy at stake.

Luis Bitone of the National Human Rights Commission CNDH told newspaper O País that the police acted with excessive use of force.

Several civil society organisations, individuals, political parties and other actors also criticised the way the police acted — including Frelimo member Samora Machel Júnior, also known as Samito, son of Mozambique’s first President, Samora Machel. He wrote on Facebook that the acts of unjustifiable violence against defenceless citizens, was “a betrayal of the fundamental values and principles” of Frelimo.

His sister Josina Machel reacted to Saturday’s violence saying that the level of oppression and terror of civil society in Mozambique is “reaching suffocating levels”.

The organisers of the marches and the anti-corruption watchdog CIP are taking criminal and civil action against the Mozambican state through the attorney general’s office,. CNDH said it would submit requests for clarifications.

While uncertainty remains about the accountability of the aggressors, Gamito said that, despite the torture, he will not give up fighting for a better Mozambique.

“I will not back down,” he told Zitamar. “I will remain steadfast in the mission of activism.”