Six years after the murder of journalist Carlos Cardoso, the leader of the commando which killed him was definitively sentenced to a long prison term. Mozambique’s public ministry even went further by opening an investigation into the possible complicity of Nyimpine Chissano, son of former president Joachim Chissano.
It is sufficiently rare in Africa for a journalist’s killer to be effectively brought to justice, for this kind of verdict to be thoroughly welcomed. This was what happened in Mozambique in 2006, six years after the murder of Carlos Cardoso, editor of the daily Metical, who was killed in November 2000 while he was investigating the country’s biggest financial scandal since independence.
On 20 January, Anibal Antonio dos Santos Junior, known as “Anibalzinho”, the leader of the commando who killed the journalist, was sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison. Anibalzinho was also ordered to pay damages to Cardoso’s family of 14 billion meticals (about 490,000 euros), and 1.5 billion meticals (51 000-52,000 euros) to the journalist’s driver who was injured in the ambush. The judge said that after serving the entirety of his sentence, Portuguese-national Anibalzinho should be deported to his home country. Certainly, key areas of doubt still exist in the case and neither the circumstances of the defendant’s two spectacular escapes, probably with help from within the police, nor accusations of complicity against the son of the former president, Nyimpine Chissano, accused of having ordered the killing, have been ever been fully cleared up.
However, on 9 May, Mozambique’s public ministry opened an investigation into the accusation that Nyimpine Chissano was allegedly the “moral author” behind the murder of Carlos Cardoso. He was being investigated for “complicity” and “various economic crimes”. The prosecutor-general’s offices sent the file to the High Court in Maputo. A judge will now have to interview all parties before deciding whether the son of the former head of state should be brought before a court.
Cardoso was murdered on 22 November 2000, on Avenue Martires de Machava in Maputo. He was travelling in his car with his driver when two men blocked their route and opened fire on them. Cardoso, who was hit by several bullets in the head, died instantly and his driver was very badly injured. The journalist was at the time investigating the embezzlement of the equivalent of 14 million euros from the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM). In his articles he had particularly cited the names of three very powerful businessmen, the two Satar brothers and Vicente Ramaya.
Abuse of power
The case sent shock waves across the country and forced the government to give more respect to the press. Even if prison terms still exist as a penalty for defamation, in practice the courts never impose them. There had been no arrests recorded of journalists since 2003, when the editor of the daily Imparcial, José Armando Chitula, was arrested at Maputo airport and held for 24 hours before being released. The imprisonment of the editor, news editor and a reporter from the community newspaper Mabarwe, on 3 May, therefore provoked surprise in 2006, and was particularly revealing of the abuse of power by small-time local despots, with police complicity. Editor Sebastião Canjera, news editor João Mascarenhas, and journalist Patreque Francisco, were arrested in the provincial capital, Chimoio, on the orders of the deputy prosecutor, Jose Abede. The three journalists were imprisoned on the basis of a “defamation” suit lodged by an influential business in Barue district, Tiago Pangaia. The newspaper had reported that he had recently been arrested after being accused of stealing 70 head of cattle, and then released for lack of evidence by the office of the deputy prosecutor. The three men were freed after a week of being held illegally, following the personal intervention of the deputy prosecutor’s superior.