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Mozambique state calls for ‘conviction’ of police officers in poll observer murder

Anastacio Matavele, seen in the potrait, a local election observer, was gunned down behind the wheel of his car just days before the October 15 vote (AFP Photo/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)

Xai-Xai, Mozambique | AFP | Mozambique’s public prosecutor on Thursday called for an “exemplary conviction” of six elite officers accused of murdering a poll observer ahead of national elections last year, but denied any state involvement in the killing.

Prosecutor Leonardo Cumbe’s remarks marked the end of a trial in the southeastern city of Xai-Xai for the murder of Anastacio Matavele — a local election observer gunned down behind the wheel of his car just days before the October 15 vote.

Matavele’s 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.

Six members of the unit have since been arrested, including two officers who were wounded in the accident.

A seventh suspect escaped the crash site before police arrived and is being tried in absentia.

The defendants have been charged with voluntary homicide, conspiracy, forgery and illegal use of firearms.

A verdict is expected on June 18.

“There is no doubt that the defendants’ intention was to kill,” Cumbe told the court.

Citing forensic reports, the prosecutor said Matavele’s vehicle was hit by 13 bullets, seven of which entered the victim’s back and legs.

“The defendants were hunting Mr. Matavele as if he were a rhino,” said Cumbe, who called for a “severe conviction” of the defendants.

The two policemen caught after the car crash had previously confessed to taking part in Matavele’s murder.

Their lawyer, however, claimed they killed the observer in the context of an “armed robbery”.

The remaining four defendants have denied all charges.

If found guilty, they could each face up to 24 years in prison.

– ‘Politically motivated’ –

Meanwhile, Matavele family lawyer Flavio Menete asked judges to hold the state “civilly responsible” for the death.

Last month, the public prosecutor refused to compensate Matavele’s family on behalf of the state.

Court documents seen by AFP said the claim was rejected on the basis that the policemen who killed Matavele were acting “at their own risk” and not in service of the government.

“Those who committed the crime are police officers, agents of the state,” Menete told the court. “They used state weapons, which were picked from the police arsenal and (returned) after the crime.”

“Not condemning the state to pay compensation means transmitting the idea that the state allows this type of practise,” he added.

Cumbe debunked the accusations, claiming the defendants had planned Matavele’s murder “outside office hours”

“They were not assigned to any mission the day they murdered the activist,” the prosecutor said, adding that the officers were “taking advantage of their functions”.

It is the first time the killing of a rights defender is brought to court in Mozambique.

Menete claims the murder was “politically motivated”.

“(Matavele) was the holder of electoral information… that he intended to convey… to central level observers,” the lawyer said.

“They silenced Matavele because… they are not yet used to hearing a different opinion.”

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