Maputo, 18 Mar (AIM) – On Saturday morning, for the second time in less than a week, the Mozambican police attacked and teargassed peaceful demonstrators in Maputo, who were attempting to pay tribute to the country’s foremost rap artist, Edson da Luz (better known by his stage name of Azagaia), who died on 9 March.
The first clash occurred on the very day of Azagaia’s funeral, last Tuesday, when police and mourners disagreed on the route to be followed from the Maputo city hall to Michafutene cemetery. The police used teargas, supposedly to prevent the mourners approaching the offices of President Filipe Nyusi. A worse disaster was avoided by striking a compromise about the route.
The police behavior on Saturday was truly shocking, because this time the Maputo Municipal Council had authorized the march – yet the police disregarded the written authorization from Mayor Eneas Comiche, and repeatedly launched tear gas cylinders into the crowd.
There is no doubt that the march had the blessing of the Municipal Council. The march organisers negotiated the authorization with the Council, and the document signed by Comiche circulated on social media.
The march, in tribute to Azagaia, was to set off from the statue of Eduardo Mondlane, the founder of the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), on the central Maputo avenue that bears his name, at 08.30. The marchers intended to make their way to Independence Square, in front of Maputo City Hall.
The organisers stressed that the demonstration was entirely peaceful, expressing support for the ideals of Azagaia, a musician whose songs against corruption and poverty had caught the imagination of the younger generation.
But the police (including police dogs) arrived at the statue of Mondlane before any demonstrators did, and immediately set about dispersing the crowd – although not a single marcher was carrying anything that could be construed as a weapon.
Tear gas was repeatedly used, with the effect of breaking the crowd into small groups, which were then pursued by the police. The marchers burst into song and slogans – particularly chanting Azagaia’s best known theme “O povo no poder” (“the people in power”)
There was sporadic firing of tear gas cylinders for about three hours. According to a report on the independent television station, STV, at least five people were injured, three of whom needed medical attention. The police reportedly detained four people.
Speaking to reporters, journalist and civil society activist Fatima Mimbire said she could not understand the behavior of the police.
“We don’t know why the police are acting like this, and preventing the march”, she said. “This is a peaceful march, it’s not a political party march”.
Nobody among the marchers had opted for violence. “Nobody threw stones at the police”, said Mimbire.
The march was supposed to be on a nationwide scale – but reports reaching Maputo indicated that the police repressed the demonstrations in Beira and Nampula, even though these two cities are run by opposition parties, and the local Municipal Councils authorized the marches.
Mozambican law on the freedom of assembly allows peaceful demonstrations. Indeed, the organisers of such demonstrations do not need authorization – they must merely notify the authorities, particularly of the routes they intend to use.
The police actions were clearly illegal and unconstitutional. But the police attacks were carried out in full view of television cameras, and anyone who turned on their television sets on Saturday morning would have seen the clouds of tear gas billowing across central Maputo.
As of midday Saturday, there was no explanation from the police for their behaviour.