Reporters Without Borders today accused a deputy prosecutor in the central Mozambican province of Manica of "flagrant abuse of authority" for detaining the editor and news editor of the privately-owned newspaper Mabarwe and one of their reporters since 3 May with the complicity of the local police.
"We call for the immediate and unconditional release of these three journalists, who have spent a week in prison, for an administrative investigation into how this absurd situation came about, and for the punishment of those found responsible," the press freedom organisation said.
The police arrested editor Sebastião Canjera, news editor João Mascarenhas and reporter Patreque Francisco in the provincial capital of Chimoio on World Press Freedom Day on the orders of deputy prosecutor Jose Abede.
Abede acted in response to libel action brought by influential Barue district businessman Tiago Pangaia over a report that he was arrested for allegedly stealing 70 head of cattle and then freed at the deputy prosecutor's behest for lack of evidence.
The three journalists are still being held in Chimoio. The executive director of the Mozambican branch of the independent Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Alfredo Libombo, said he had been told him they would be freed today. Libombo said he had not been able to reach either Abede or the police chief, but he had spoken to Abede's superior, Tomas Zandamela, who had acknowledged that there was no legal provision for preventive detention in libel cases.
There is provision for prison sentences for libel in Mozambique, but the courts never apply them and it is very rare for journalists to be arrested. The most recent case registered by Reporters Without Borders was on 30 June 2003, when José Armando Chitula, the editor of the daily Imparcial, was arrested at Maputo airport and held for 24 hours.