MAPUTO– Mozambique’s Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) has ordered officials on duty at voter registration units not to police the way in which potential voters dress after it was reported that some officials had, over the weekend, arrogated to themselves the right to refuse registration to citizens who, in their eyes, were not decently dressed.

One citizen, Zita Costa, took to Facebook to denounce the way she had been mistreated at a voter registration post in the Polana Secondary School in central Maputo, saying that when she attempted to register, an officer turned her away because her shoulders were bare. When she argued with him, he claimed the brigades had instructions from above not to register as voters anyone whose shoulders are uncovered.

When offered a shawl, Costa refused it, knowing perfectly well that she had committed no offence, and that it was the registration brigade that was breaking the law.

Costa posted a photo of herself, showing that no-one in their right mind could consider the dress she was wearing improper or indecent. Several other Facebook users joined the discussion and said that they too had been denied registration because their shoulders were uncovered.

STAE general director Felisberto Naife said Monday there was no such instructions from above. STAE had issued no guidelines telling registration brigades to turn women away because their shoulders were bare, he said.

It was the same with people who went to the registration posts wearing shorts. People are not obliged to wear trousers in order to register,” said Naife. He believed that the members of some registration brigades had displayed excess zeal.

Naife said that STAE has now issued an instruction to the registration brigades not to turn potential voters away, just because their shoulders are uncovered or they are wearing shorts.

The law on voter registration does not demand any specific clothing for would-be voters.

However, it does say that any member of a registration brigade who prevents citizens from voting is committing an offence which can be punished by a heavy fine or even by a prison sentence of up to a year.

The attempt to dictate what women should wear had previously been reported from several state institutions which refuse to allow women to enter their premises when their skirts are deemed too short, or their shoulders are uncovered. There seems to be no legal basis whatever for these petty restrictions.