MAPUTO, Judge Alexandre Samuel of the Maputo City Court has rejected a request from defence counsel Jaime Sunda to ban the media from covering the trial of his client, Setina Titosse, who is accused of masterminding the fraud through which 170 million meticais (about 5.6 million US dollars, at the then prevailing exchange rate) was drained from the government’s Agricultural Development Fund (FDA) between 2012 and 2015.

The request Wednesday to throw journalists out of the courtroom comes rather late since Titosse and 23 others have been on trial since Sept 12, and case has been headline news for the past week.

Sundae claimed that the media coverage violated the presumption of innocence which accused persons enjoy, and was damaging the good name and image of the defendants.

Both the Mozambican Penal Code and the Constitution state that trials are public, except under certain limited circumstances. Article 65 of the Constitution establishes the public nature of trials except when the protection of personal, family, social or moral intimacy, or powerful reasons of security of the hearing or of public order advise the exclusion or restriction of publicity.

The exception concerning personal intimacy mainly concerns cases of rape and other sexual offences, and no issue of security or public order can conceivably arise from a fraud case.

Judge Samuel rejected Sundae’s request, citing the public’s right to information, which can only be guaranteed by media coverage of trials.

He was supported by Prosecutor Joao Nhane, who told journalists that the trial is a public act, from which the media cannot be excluded.

I don’t think the court will take its decision influenced by what the press says. Let us leave the journalists to do their jobs. A balance must be found between the exercise of the profession of journalism and the rights of the accused. The trial is a matter of public interest, and the media take part in educating society, which is what we want, he said.

Nhane pointed out that there are already restrictions on how the press can report. There can be no live broadcasting of trials. Cameras and microphones are only allowed at the formal opening and closing sessions of trials. During the interrogation and cross-examination of the accused and of witnesses, no recording by the media is permitted, and journalists are only allowed to take notes.