Senior officials in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province must withdraw comments accusing journalists of colluding with terrorists and publishing false news and the authorities must allow the media to report on the conflict without intimidation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday.

In a public address on February 17 in the provincial capital of Pemba, Cabo Delgado governor Valige Tauabo accused unnamed journalists and media outlets of striking “deals” with terrorists and being “in sync with terrorists,” according to news reports.

Tauabo said that coverage of the region had an “imprint of evil” because journalists’ views had been “formatted by terrorists” and he warned the media “not to create a situation,” those sources said.

In a February 16 radio interview, Sidónio José, administrator of Quissanga district in Cabo Delgado, accused unnamed journalists of “fabricating false news about terrorism to traumatize communities,” according to the privately owned Integrity Magazine and the Mozambican chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa rights group.

The government has been fighting an Islamic State-linked insurgency in Cabo Delgado since 2017, which has displaced about 1 million people. In 2021, Rwanda and southern African neighbors sent troops to support the government. Since December, a new wave of attacks has forced about 70,000 people to flee their homes, United Nations data shows.

“It is alarming that officials in Cabo Delgado are issuing threats against the media and making inflammatory comments about journalists who already face high levels of risk covering the insurgency in Cabo Delgado,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Muthoki Mumo from Nairobi. “Cabo Delgado governor Valige Tauabo and Quissanga district administrator Sidónio José must withdraw their comments accusing journalists of colluding with terrorists and fabricating the news. Instead of intimidating the press, authorities should support the journalism that Mozambicans need to make crucial decisions about their lives.”

A local journalist who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, said authorities rarely provided timely responses to journalistic queries about the conflict, creating a “vacuum of official information that feeds disinformation about the security situation.”

Another journalist, who also asked not to be named due to safety concerns, told CPJ that the “narrative of blaming journalists for the difficulties of combating the insurgency” had been a problem for the media for several years.

In 2020, radio journalist Ibraimo Mbaruco disappeared after he texted a colleague that he was “surrounded by soldiers.” Authorities have yet to provide a credible account of his whereabouts.

Radio journalist Amade Abubacar and Arlindo Chissale, editor of Pinnacle News, which specializes in reporting on the insurgency, were arrested and accused of terrorism, in 2019 and 2022 respectively, while reporting in Cabo Delgado.

CPJ’s calls to Tauabo requesting comment on his public address did not receive a response.

When contacted via messaging app, José declined to comment, adding that “only the defense institutions can speak about the delicate situation in the region.”