The Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday expressed alarm that police arrested one journalist and two others were robbed of equipment while covering a protest in the Mozambican capital, Maputo. 

At around 6:00 p.m. on June 4, seven police officers chased and arrested Sheila Wilson while she was reporting live from a protest by hundreds of former secret service agents over alleged non-payment of pensions, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ.

Wilson, a reporter with the the non-governmental organization Center for Democracy and Human Rights, was broadcasting live on the Facebook page of the advocacy group’s President Adriano Nuvunga.

Wilson said the police officers grabbed her, threw her under the seat of a police van, and took her to the Fourth Station in Maputo where she was held for six hours without being allowed to contact anyone.

Wilson told CPJ that upon her release, the police retained her phone and told her that she would face an investigation, without specifying the charges. 

“I handed my life to God when they told me that they would have a little chat with me at the station,” she said, adding that she was fearful that she would die in police custody like an activist did in 2023. “I was lucky to get off with a bruise and a bump on the head only.”

Robbed while interviewing police spokesperson

During the June 4 protest, five unidentified men grabbed the arms of reporter Laves Macatane and camera operator Hélder Matwassa, immobilizing them and pushing Matwassa to the ground, the journalists told CPJ. Macatane and Matwassa, who both work with the private broadcaster STV, were interviewing Maputo police spokesperson Leonel Muchina when the assailants stole their camera,  the Mozambican chapter of the regional press freedom group Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said in a statement, and the journalists told CPJ.

The journalists told CPJ that their assailants ran through a police security cordon and left in a Toyota vehicle that had no license plates without being questioned or chased, despite the heavy presence of police officers.

“It paints a very disheartening picture of press freedom in Mozambique that instead of protecting journalists covering a protest, police violently arrested one reporter and stood by as two others were robbed,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Muthoki Mumo in Nairobi. “Authorities should credibly investigate the robbery of the two STV journalists and discontinue any criminal proceedings against CDD reporter Sheila Wilson.”

Macatane told CPJ that police spokesperson Muchina approached him after they filmed police charging at elderly protestors, including a woman who cried as she was dragged on the ground and beaten, and asked the journalists not to air the footage due to the risk of it causing “unrest.” When Macatane refused, Muchina spoke to his colleagues, then came back a few minutes later and asked to be interviewed. 

“While we were doing [the interview] the men in plainclothes came and grabbed us, threw Matwassa to the ground, and took his camera — all while the police spokesman watched unmoved,” Macatane said. 

That evening, the journalists said, police at Maputo’s Third Station initially refused to record the complaint on the grounds that the stolen equipment belonged to STV, not the individual journalists.

When STV editor-in-chief Emildo Sambo came to the station to press their case, the police finally agreed to register the complaint, the journalists and STV’s director of information Olivia Massango told CPJ.

Macatane said he believed that he recognized some of his assailants among officers inside the police station, as well as the same Toyota car with no license plates outside of the building.

The officer who registered the journalists’ complaint said it would be handled by the independent National Criminal Investigation Service (SERNIC) as it was outside the police’s jurisdiction, Macatane said.

Muchina referred CPJ’s request for comment to the national police as he said he was not authorized to speak with an “international institution.”

National police commander Bernardino Rafael did not respond to CPJ calls and text messages requesting comment.