Death threat against Adriano Nuvunga in Mozambique is a threat to all defenders of human rights – activists

Death threat against Adriano Nuvunga in Mozambique is a threat to all defenders of human rights – activists
Leading Mozambican human rights defender Professor Adriano Nuvunga. (Photo: Facebook)

The latest death threat against leading human rights activist Professor Adriano Nuvunga in Mozambique comes amid a squeezing of the civic space in that country.

“The threat against Prof Adriano Nuvunga is a threat against all human rights defenders in Mozambique … It is also a threat against all human rights defenders, whether in southern Africa, across the continent or globally. We need to speak with one voice; we need to unite,” said Tiseke Kasambala, human rights defender and director for the Africa Programme at Freedom House

Kasambala was speaking at a briefing held in solidarity with Mozambican human rights defender Professor Adriano Nuvunga after he received a death threat earlier this week. Nuvunga is the director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, president of the Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network and deputy chairperson of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SouthernDefenders). 

On Tuesday, Maverick Citizen’s Mark Heywood reported that two AK-47 assault rifle bullets were thrown at the front door of Nuvunga’s home in Maputo, Mozambique, early on the morning of 15 August while he was asleep.

Following the death threat, SouthernDefenders issued a statement which said “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’”.

Speaking at Wednesday’s briefing, Nuvunga said they had immediately called the police. Nuvunga lives near a police station – a “one-minute walking distance” from his home. 

Nuvunga reported the threat to the police and officers from Mozambique’s National Criminal Investigation Service collected the bullets for investigation. 

At home, I have security cameras. We went through the [footage], which clearly showed two young men walking from north to south towards the police station. This was around 5am, and the [footage] shows them throwing the bullets, and then starting to run [in the direction of] the police station,” recalled Nuvunga. 

This is not the first death threat Nuvunga has received. Two years ago, he was forced to relocate his family to South Africa after receiving bomb threats, Maverick Citizen reported.

“Two years ago, I suffered similar threats, with an anonymous person calling, claiming to have planted a bomb in my house that would explode in one hour,” he said. Nuvunga reported the threat to the police, who, after searching his home and finding no bomb, promised to investigate further.  

“Until today, we haven’t heard anything from that investigation,” he said. 

This “very worrying” threat to Nuvunga’s life comes during a time when he has been vocal in criticising the Mozambican government’s responses to escalating protests against the worsening socioeconomic conditions, rising cost of living and corruption in the country. 

Bloomberg reported that unrest has been simmering in several African countries, including South Africa, Sierra Leone and Mozambique, all of which have seen an increase in cost-of-living protests as people struggle to cope with rising food and fuel prices. Last month, protest action in Mozambique culminated in a strike that shut down Maputo. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Rising global cost of living is a looming human rights crisis in southern Africa”

Nuvunga has been advocating to protect the right to demonstrate in the country, and says he has “received critical comments from the authorities”. 

“Mozambique is going through challenging times, with riots being stopped by the police almost weekly,” said Nuvunga, adding that on Wednesday, police were preventing a demonstration from taking place outside his home. 

Nuvunga has been a frontrunner in calling out human rights abuses in Mozambique, including cases of corruption by political elites in the Frelimo party. 

A threat to one, is a threat to all

The SouthernDefenders statement was signed by 31 human rights organisations and 27 human rights leaders from seven countries across southern Africa, who condemned “in the strongest possible terms, the macabre and cowardly” attack on Nuvunga. 

Among the organisations that signed were Amnesty International, the Helen Suzman Foundation and the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria. 

During Wednesday’s briefing, several human rights activists expressed their solidarity with Nuvunga and made recommendations for the way forward. 

“I believe that something must be done. This threat that the professor has suffered is not only a threat to him, but is a threat to all advocates … all defenders of human rights. We cannot accept this in a country that is seen as democratic,” said Marta Licuco, human rights defender and executive coordinator of Djumula in Cabo Delgado.

Licuco added that a legal instrument should be established to penalise the Southern African Development Community countries that failed to uphold human rights. 

“This intimidation must stop,” she said. 

“Today it’s Nuvunga, tomorrow it will be me, and the day after that it will be someone else.”

Director of the National Human Rights Commission of Mozambique Luís Bitone said the commission is “highly concerned” about the threat to Nuvunga and the “very critical and serious limitation of the democratic space in Mozambique”.

We have been receiving reports that the civic space in our country is being increasingly reduced,” said Bitone, adding that the threat to Nuvunga will evoke fear in many human rights activists in Mozambique.

He called for greater solidarity and “cohesion” among activists, and for the strengthening of human rights networks “in order to make human rights a reality” in Mozambique. 

Bitone said the commission is also concerned about the actions of the authorities, who are not providing concrete information with regard to convictions that are necessary to hold perpetrators accountable.

Chairperson of SouthernDefenders Arnold Tsunga echoed Bitone’s remarks about the authorities, saying the organisation is worried about the “climate of impunity” in the country regarding attacks on human rights activists. 

“The fact that the attack against Nuvunga happened so close to the police station is worrying, given that there’s a climate of impunity … We also have a history of police agents attacking human rights defenders in the community,” he said. 

Six policemen were found guilty of murdering Mozambican activist Anastacio Matavel. Matavel was shot and killed while driving in Xai-Xai in the province of Gaza ahead of the country’s 2019 elections, the BBC reported.

Speaking during Wednesday’s briefing, Lloyd Kuveya, assistant director at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, called for those threatening Nuvunga to be swiftly identified and brought to justice.

“We call upon the government of Mozambique to ensure that nothing happens to Prof Nuvunga and that the perpetrators are brought to book,” said Kuveya. 

As Mozambique is a member of the Commonwealth, Kuveya recommended writing a letter alerting the association of what is happening in Mozambique. 

In closing remarks, Kasambala said what was “heartening” was the number of human rights defenders who expressed their support for Nuvunga following the threats on his life. 

“That gives me some hope that all is not lost – that if we bring our voices together and we are vocal about keeping the environment for civic activism and human rights defence open, we will see some impact and we will ensure that our leaders are held to account, and are responsible for the safety of activists and critics,” she said. DM


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