On June 11, 2015, Dr. Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco, a professor of Economics at the Institute for Social and Economic Studies in Mozambique, was charged with crimes against the security of the state, in connection with an article he posted on Facebook in November 2013, in which he reportedly criticized former president Armando Guebuza for bad governance, and called on him to resign. Two journalists, Fernando Mbanze and Fernando Veloso, have been charged with the crime of abuse of press freedom, allegedly for having republished Dr. Castel-Branco’s article in their respective newspapers. Dr. Castel-Branco, Mbanze and Veloso are expected to be tried together on August 31, 2015.
Dr. Castel-Branco was originally summoned into court for a preliminary hearing in May 2014, during which he was reportedly asked whether he had written the article, and whether he had sent it to media. However, formal charges were apparently not brought against Dr. Castel-Branco until June 2015, when he was charged under Article 22 of Mozambique’s 1991 law on crimes against state security, which criminalizes defamation against the president and other officials, and carries a potential prison term of one to two years.
The case was initially scheduled to go to trial on August 3, 2015, but, at Dr. Castel-Branco’s request, it was later adjourned until August 31. In a written statement, Dr. Castel-Branco, who was in Manchester, England at the time, indicated that he would return to Mozambique to stand trial.
“I was asked if I would go to Mozambique for the trial. Of course I am going. The issues at stake are much bigger than me. I refuse to be seen as being in political exile from my country. I have not committed any crime or undertaken any action that I am ashamed of. If the [attorney general] wants to go on to trial, I will use it, to the best of my ability, as a platform to fight for freedom of expression, of press, of political debate and thinking, and for an open debate on the social and economic issues that I raised on Facebook, for which we stand accused of defamation and abuse of freedom of the press now. Of course, it would be safer and more comfortable if no trial took place and the case were dismissed. However, as it is going ahead, we should take advantage of it. Whatever the outcome, whether we are found guilty or not, if the debate is in the open we win and Mozambique wins.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for nonviolent, expressive activity related to his professional expertise and protected by internationally recognized human rights standards. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Prosecution aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
On September 16, 2015, the Professor Castel-Branco was reportedly acquitted. The court found that Professor Castel-Branco’s article was protected as free expression by Mozambique’s constitution. Mr. Mbanze was also acquitted; Mr. Veloso was not in court, as he was out of the country undergoing medical treatments, but prosecutors reportedly did not attempt to try him in absentia.