Four Mozambique policemen jailed for poll observer's murder

  • Four Mozambican policemen have been jailed for the murder of a poll observer
  • Anastacio Matavele, 58, was brutally gunned down behind the wheel of his car, a few days before October election last year
  • The killers were caught red-handed after colliding into another car as they fled the scene

Maputo - A Mozambican court on Thursday handed jail terms of up to 24 years to four elite police officers in an unprecedented case for the murder of a poll observer ahead of last year's national elections.

Anastacio Matavele, 58, was brutally gunned down behind the wheel of his car in the southern city of Xai-Xai, just days to crucial October elections that were troubled by violence and accusations of fraud.

Matavele headed a grouping of civil society organisations that were monitoring the poll and had revealed numerous irregularities in voter rolls.

The killers were caught red-handed after colliding into another car as they fled the scene, allowing police to link the murder to Mozambique's elite rapid intervention unit.

Citing forensic reports, the prosecution told the hearing that Matavele's vehicle was hit by 13 bullets, seven of which entered the victim's back and legs.

"There is no doubt that the defendants' intention was to kill," prosecutor Leonardo Cumbe said last month during the hearing.

"The defendants were hunting Mr. Matavele as if he were a rhino," said Cumbe.

Alfredo Macuacua, the head of the provincial rapid intervention unit, along with Tudelo Guirugo, Edson Silica and Euclidio Mapulasse were charged with voluntary homicide, conspiracy, forgery and illegal use of firearms.

The assassination sparked outcry in the country and abroad.

Prosecutors requested an "exemplary" and "severe" punishment for the four.

The Gaza provincial court slapped three of the officers with 24 jail terms, the maximum sentence for the offences, while the fourth defendant was jailed for 23 years.

Judge Ana Liquidao also ordered the four men to pay a total of $21 000 in compensation to Matavele's family.

The family had sought $516 000 in damages from the state, but the judge ruled the state could not be held liable.

'State off the hook' 

The victim's family lawyer Felix Mucache said he was "not happy" with the court's decision.

"Our main objective was to ensure that the Mozambican state had a civil responsibility towards the (Matavele) family. So I am not very satisfied," he told AFP.

Two other defendants received lesser sentences of two and three years, each.

The trial was unprecedented in a country where murders and abductions of members of civil society, opposition politicians and journalists have become routine since 2015 but are typically sidelined for lack of evidence.

The police officers' lawyer Elisio de Sousa, who claimed during the trial that the observer was killed in the context of an "armed robbery", has vowed to appeal the conviction and sentences.

"I think that in handing the sentences, the court came under social pressure and did not take into account the defence arguments," de Sousa told AFP.

"So the matter has to be reviewed and I think the courts in (the capital) Maputo will be in a better position to deal with the case," he said.

Adriano Nuvunga, the head of the local pro-democracy charity Centre for Democracy and Development, described the sentences as a "half victory".

"The masterminds are drinking cold beer at home. The big crooks and the state are off the hook," he tweeted.

"Compensation for the family is too little. We are not happy!" said Nuvunga, who previously described the murder as a "state crime".

The election was won by President Filipe Nyusi and his Frelimo party, which has been in power since independence from Portugal in 1975.

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