Death in 'paradise'

Human Rights Watch calls for probe into Hanekom death

Human Rights Watch calls for probe into Hanekom death

Human Rights Watch calls for impartial and transparent probe of the death of South African Andre Hanekom in Mozambican custody. But Mozambique has already conducted an autopsy on its own, making the truth harder to uncover.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Mozambican authorities to ensure an impartial and transparent investigation of the “suspicious” death in Mozambican police custody of South African businessman Andre Hanekom last week.

But the chances of an independent probe of have already begun to fade as Mozambique authorities performed an autopsy on Hanekom’s body without the presence of a family member or representative. Hanekom was being held for supposedly jihadist activities.

He died on 23 January in Pemba provincial hospital in Mozambique’s northernmost province, Cabo Delgado. His widow, Francis, called for an independent autopsy immediately following his death because she suspected he had been poisoned.

A statement by HRW, the advocacy NGO, on Thursday, 31 January reveals the suspicious circumstances of Hanekom’s death as well as a clear violation by Mozambican authorities of their own laws in the way he was treated.

Hanekom died in the Pemba hospital five days after he had been transferred from the prison hospital suffering violent convulsions, HRW said.

Hanekom’s wife, Francis, told Human Rights Watch that on January 23 friends informed her that Hanekom had died,” the statement read.

She went to the hospital, where staff told her that her husband had died after organ failure. She said the hospital staff performed an autopsy without the presence of a family member or representative.”

The HRW said that on 29 January, the newspaper O Pais reported that the AttorneyGeneral’s office in Pemba had received the results of the autopsy, but would not share them with the family. A state prosecutor in Pemba declined to confirm this, the NGO said.

Hanekom’s death in custody raises questions that need a prompt and thorough investigation by the authorities,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at the HRW. “The authorities should establish the cause of Hanekom’s death and provide the details and autopsy report to his family.”

Hanekom, 62, had owned a boat ramp and maritime logistics company in Cabo Delgado, said the organisation. According to witnesses and media reports, he had been seized by the police on 1 August 2018, after gunmen wearing camouflage uniforms and masks tried to drive him off the road. “Friends and family thought Hanekom had been kidnapped. After reporting this to the police, they were informed that the gunmen were police officers and that Hanekom was at Mueda district hospital with gunshot wounds in his left arm and stomach. On August 6, police transferred him to the hospital in Pemba, capital of Cabo Delgado.

On September 11, police moved Hanekom from Pemba hospital to the local police station, where he was kept on suspicion of being connected to armed attacks in the region,” HRW continued.

He was later transferred from the Pemba police station to a jail in Mocimboa da Praia district, without appearing before a judge, HRW said. A month later police turned him over to army soldiers, who kept him incommunicado at a military base in Mueda until mid-January, despite a court ordering him to be released on bail in October, it added.

Meanwhile, on 31 December, five months after Hanekom had been arrested, Mozambican prosecutors announced that he and two Tanzanians were among leaders of an armed Islamist group known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a or Al-Shaabab. They were charged with murder, crimes against the state, and inciting civil disobedience. His wife said the charges were trumped up. Despite charging him, Mozambican military authorities continued to hold Hanekom at the military base, in violation both of their own laws forbidding the military from holding detainees and a court order of 10 October ordering his release.

The attacks, supposedly by the jihadist group, many of them particularly brutal and some including beheadings, began in September or October 2017. More than 100 people have been killed in more than 50 attacks, which take place every few days. This week, Mozambican police announced that a further five people had been arrested in connection with the attacks, three of them Ugandans and two Mozambicans.

Security and terrorism experts find it hard to believe that Hanekom, a professional hunter and fisherman, would have become involved in such jihadist activities.

HRW said that although Hanekom had been denied contact with his family or lawyers while he was in the Mueda military base, Francis told them he had often been able to call her by paying soldiers for access to cellphones. At times, she said, he had been kept in solitary confinement while soldiers tried to obtain information from him.

She said that when the military eventually transferred him to Pemba maximum security jail on January 14, for the start of his trial, he asked her to fetch a prescription from the prison jail, for persistent pain on his right hip, because the local pharmacy did not have the medicine. She said that the jail staff refused to take the medicine when she delivered it.

On January 18, she took food to her husband just before 3 pm. The guards told her that he wasn’t feeling well and did not allow her to see him. That evening, the South African High Commissioner to Mozambique, Mandisi Mpahlwa, who had visited Hanekom, told Francis that her husband had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of Pemba Hospital and that he would arrange for her to visit the next day.”

HRW said Francis told them that her husband then appeared frail, was semi-unconscious and suffering from hallucinations, with blood in his urine and lungs, jaundice and apparent bleeding under the skin.

Francis, a former intensive care unit nurse in South Africa, said she questioned the doctor’s diagnosis of pneumonia because Hanekom had not shown signs of being seriously ill. ‘I also asked the prison guards about his physical condition, and they told me he was fine,’ she said. She believes her husband was poisoned to cover up for abuses in detention that could have been revealed during his trial.”

Human Right Watch said it had seen a video that Francis had recorded in the hospital on 21 January, which showed Hanekom on a hospital bed, connected to various tubes, gasping for air. “His skin had several small dark marks and he appeared to have lost significant weight since his arrest, his wife said.

When she visited on the evening of January 22 he appeared better, she said, and his breathing had improved. But he was declared dead the next morning. On January 24, the prison authorities handed over his body to the family. A medical report signed by the physician on duty states that Hanekom died at 4:25 am of ‘Encephalopathy Hypoxemia’ or brain injury from asphyxia.”

Hanekom had been kept in detention without charges or access to a lawyer since 1 August despite a court order of 10 October from the Palma District Court ordering his release on bail, HRW said.

A day after the court order was issued, Hanekom’s wife went to the jail but was unable to secure her husband’s release. She saw him being driven away in a car believed to belong to the Mozambican National Criminal Investigation Unit (SERNIC).

On October 15, Human Rights Watch contacted a SERNIC spokesman, Leonardo Simbine, seeking an explanation. He promised to investigate and respond with a detailed answer, but to date, Human Rights Watch has received no official comment from SERNIC.”

The HRW statement quoted Francis: “Since he was grabbed and hijacked from the jail in Mocimboa da Praia, I did not know where he was. He eventually got a phone and called me to tell where he was.” She added that he was then at the military base in Mueda but neither she, her lawyer, nor court officials had been allowed to enter the military zone.

Under Mozambican law, military personnel are prohibited from holding detainees and must hand over suspects detained during military operations to police, who will proceed with arrests and release the suspects or charge them within 48 hours,” HRW said.

Mozambique’s constitution says that detainees must be informed upon arrest about accusations against them and the reasons for their detention.”

Mavhinga said: “The Mozambique government should protect the rights of all accused persons. If anyone acted unlawfully or negligently in connection with the arrest and death of Hanekom, the government should take appropriate legal action to ensure they are brought to justice.”

Asked if Pretoria supported the HRW’s call for an impartial and transparent investigation, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, spokesperson for International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, said:

The Minister directed the High Commissioner to provide a report on the circumstances that led to his death, let us wait for that report and the Mozambique authorities are co-operating with the High Commissioner to prepare the report.

I am sure we cannot stop any other person from investigating, but we are working with Mozambique authorities to finalise a report, a Government to Government report.” DM


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