MAPUTO– Matias Guente, the executive editor of the weekly newspaper, Canal de Mocambique, has been acquitted by the Maputo City Court on libel charges brought against him by a former director of the Bank of Mozambique, Joana Matsombe.

The case arose from a cartoon which the paper published showing Matsombe, and the then governor of the central bank, Ernesto Gove, relaxing in bathing suits. The cartoon was supposed to be satirising the alleged incompetence of the banking supervision department of the Bank of Mozambique ahead of the collapse, in late 2016, of a small commercial bank, O Nosso Banco (Our Bank).

While Guente pointed out that satirical cartoons are a form of social criticism recognized in much of the world, Matsombe claimed that the caricature had libelled and dishonoured her, and had even shaken her marriage (she is the wife of a prominent businessman in the tourism industry, Quessanias Matsombe).

She demanded that Guente be sent to prison for a year, and pay her compensation of two million meticais (about 34,000 US dollars, at current exchange rates).

Guente and his supporters argued it was absurd to imagine that the cartoon hinted at any kind of sexual relation between Matsombe and Gove.

Initially, the Public Prosecutor’s Office backed Matsombe, but in mid-July its changed its mind and dropped the charges. In a highly unusual move, the Prosecutor, Carlos Banze, urged the court to acquit Guente.

Despite the many months spent preparing this case, the Public Prosecutor’s Office could find nothing libellous in either the cartoon or its accompanying news item. Guente, the prosecutor argued, had acted within the constitutionally accepted bounds of the freedoms of expression and of the Press.