Mozambique: Assembly Increases Period of Detention Without Charge

Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Monday passed the second and final reading of amendments to the Penal Procedural Code, which sharply increase the maximum time that suspects can he held in custody without charge.

Previously, suspects could be held for a maximum of four months without charge. The amendments say that this will remain the case for most suspects, but for serious crimes such as “terrorism, violent crime or highly organised crime, or when the crime can be punished by a sentence longer than eight years imprisonment”, the period of detention without charge can be extended to six months.

Under the current law, if a person is charged, but no court has taken a decision on whether to hold a trial, the suspect must be released after four months. The amendments raise this period of detention without trial to a maximum of ten months.

Even longer periods of preventive detention, of 12 or 16 months, the amended code says, can apply to crimes “of exceptional complexity, regarding the quality of the injured parties or the highly organised nature of the crime”.

This “exceptional complexity” is declared at the request of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, after hearing the views of the accused.

The amendments to the code were proposed by the Assembly’s working commission on constitutional matters, human rights and legality, and were passed unanimously. Thus both opposition parties, Renamo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), joined the ruling Frelimo Party in supporting the extension to detention without charge.

The Commission’s document justifying amending the Code said “it must be taken into account that, because of the risk that the suspect may flee, or may disturb the investigations (including by corrupting evidence), and in order to prevent the continuity of criminal activity, preventive detention serves the public interest”.

Furthermore, keeping suspects locked up without charge might prevent them from being lynched. In the Mozambican situation, the Commission claimed, releasing those “who are strongly suspected of committing crimes is interpreted in the sense of impunity, which often leads to people taking the law into their own hands”.

Jurists are already expressing opposition to this change in the Penal Procedural Code, which might eventually be ruled as unconstitutional.

No similar concerns attend a change the Assembly made to the Penal Code, criminalising the trafficking in people. The Code, last amended in December 2019, simply omitted the crime of people trafficking. This was “a lapse”, the Commission explained.

The need to introduce this crime into the Penal Code, said the Commission, “arises not only from its seriousness as a gross assault on the freedom and dignity of the human person, but also because of the international undertakings given by the Mozambican state”.

The amendment defines a human trafficker as anyone “who recruits, transports, transfers, hosts, supplies or receives a person with resort to threats or the use of force or other forms of coercion for purposes of exploitation”. This includes the use of kidnapping, fraud, deceit and abuse of authority.

The exploitation mentioned may include prostitution, forced marriages, slavery or forced labour and the removal of human body parts.

The amendment declares that the punishment for human trafficking is between 16 and 20 years imprisonment.

Source: Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique