SILENCING HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
Death threat – AK-47 bullets thrown at home of leading Mozambican activist
Professor Adriano Nuvunga, director of the Center for Democracy and Development, president of the Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network and deputy chairperson of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, has received a death threat.
In the early hours of Monday, 15 August 2022, two AK-47 assault rifle bullets were thrown at the front door of Nuvunga’s residence in Maputo, Mozambique.
The Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SouthernDefenders), which issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the attack, signed by 31 human rights organisations and 27 leading activists from seven countries across southern Africa, says “the bullets were partially wrapped in white paper with writing not possible to decipher in full but in which one of the phrases says, ‘WATCH OUT NUVUNGA’”.
It adds that Nuvunga has reported the threat to the police and that officers from Mozambique’s National Criminal Investigation Service (Sernic) collected the bullets and promised to investigate.
On Tuesday morning, in a message from Maputo, Nuvunga told Maverick Citizen he was “a bit scared” and that two years ago, following bomb threats, he had had to relocate his family to South Africa.
However, he was undeterred: “Today, this threat, with bullets and my name on it, is a cowardly threat. They aim at silencing me and stopping my and our work. But we are here to serve the people. We are here to fight injustice. We are here to fight against authoritarianism that is pushing millions of people to poverty. That is creating inequality.
“We are activists, as you know, and the work of activists is cautious of all threats, to continue as HRDs, to fight against the shrinking of the civic space, to push back the authoritarianism and protect the rights of the marginalised and those who have no access to the formal mechanisms of justice, and victims of corruption and victims of abuse of power.
“This will not stop us here in Mozambique or the region. We will continue with this and politicians have to respect the space of activists.”
Deepening social crisis sparks protest
The threat to Nuvunga’s life comes during a time when he has been critical of the manner in which the Mozambican government is responding to the escalating social protest in the country, including a strike and protest that shut down Maputo in early July, as a result of the worsening economy, corruption and rising cost of living.
The threat also continues a pattern of politically motivated violence against Nuvunga. In 2020, three unidentified individuals called him from an anonymous number, stating that a bomb had been planted at his home.
Nuvunga has been at the forefront of defending civic space and has repeatedly exposed and criticised human rights abuses in Mozambique, including cases of corruption by political elites in the Frelimo party.
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In particular he has been at the forefront of efforts by Mozambican civil society to ensure former finance minister Manuel Chang, imprisoned in South Africa since December 2018, is not extradited to Mozambique (where it is unlikely that charges against him will be pursued, given his closeness to the Frelimo elite), but to the US where there is a better chance that he will be tried properly for his involvement in a multinational fraud and corruption scandal.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Former Mozambican finance minister Chang a step closer to a US courtroom after appeal rejected”
Without the efforts of Nuvunga and the Mozambican Budget Monitoring Forum (FMO), which in 2019 launched urgent litigation in South Africa to prevent Chang’s imminent release, he would almost certainly have been home and dry a long time ago.
Maverick Citizen has covered this issue extensively and held a webinar with Nuvunga in January 2022. Read: “The Case of Mozambique’s Manuel Chang: Civil society…”
Activists say the death threats must be taken seriously because Mozambique has a history of impunity for attacks on and assassinations of human rights defenders. This latest act takes place in a context of increasing closure of civic space and attempts to block the activities of civil society organisations in the country, particularly in the Cabo Delgado province where Mozambique has invited the Rwanda army to quell an insurgency and where there are reports of atrocities on both sides.
The SouthernDefenders say the threats against Nuvunga “need to be fully investigated in an open and transparent manner with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice”.
Read joint Civil Society Statement below👇👇 pic.twitter.com/o0PuvOxdzw
— SouthernDefenders (@SAHRDNetwork) August 16, 2022
“We want to unequivocally emphasise and remind the authorities in Mozambique that social organisations are institutions created under the authority of the constitution of the Republic of Mozambique and the activities of their members are fully permitted by the law. The state authorities have an obligation to ensure and guarantee that they operate in a peaceful environment and under the protection of competent state bodies.
“Further, the right to human rights defending is provided for under international standards that are binding on Mozambique, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights as well as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders that was universally adopted in 1998.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Mozambique’s Frelimo gambled everything on gas – and lost”
In addition they call on the Mozambican government to “adopt measures to ensure that government officials or other public figures refrain from making statements or declarations stigmatising the legitimate work of human rights defenders in Mozambique”.
News of the threats has spread quickly around the world and the SouthernDefenders statement has been signed by human rights leaders in southern and West Africa and by international organisations such as Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, the SADC Lawyers Association and Amnesty International.
Nuvunga welcomed the support: “This solidarity from the country and the region is really very important. It shows that there is a much larger movement in support of what we do, than single individuals or single activists, so the work will continue. A luta continua!” DM/MC