Mozambique: Parliamentary Commission Questions Lusa Delegate

The Commission on Constitutional and Legal Matters and Human Rights of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Friday questioned Henrique Botiquilha, the Maputo delegate of the Portuguese news agency Lusa, about the story published by Lusa on 28 April, alleging that a mass grave containing 120 bodies had been found in the Canda administrative post, in Gorongosa district in the central province of Sofala.

The Commission is investigating both the claims of a mass grave, and the undoubted existence of bodies scattered in the bush of Macossa district, adjacent to Canda.

Botiquilha told the Commission that the source for the mass grave allegation was a group of local peasants who spoke to Lusa correspondent Andre Catueira on condition of anonymity. He added that Lusa correspondents themselves had found it impossible to gain access to the area, despite repeated efforts, due to a heavy military presence.

Botiquilha stressed that Catueira has been a stringer for Lusa for several years. He regarded Catueira as “very reliable” and his sources also as reliable. It was those sources who said they had seen the bodies in the mass grave.

Shortly after the Lusa item was published, a photo appeared on Facebook purporting to be of the Gorongosa mass grave – but the photo is fraudulent. It did indeed show a mass grave – but not in Mozambique. The photo was taken in the Philippines more than four years ago, and shows the victims of floods in that country being placed in a common grave. The photo appeared in the Portuguese press in December 2011.

Botiquilha explained that Lusa had taken no photos of the mass grave, as it had been unable to reach the site of the alleged grave. Only the text was Lusa’s responsibility. The insertion of fake photos had nothing to do with Lusa, but was the responsibility of whoever had crafted the posts that appeared on social media. Once the story had been distributed to Lusa’s subscribers, the agency had no control over how it was used.

Asked about the identity of Lusa’s peasant sources, Botiquilha pointed out that journalistic ethics on the confidentiality of sources prevent Lusa from naming them (this principle of confidentiality is also enshrined in Mozambican legislation).

Both the Gorongosa district administrator, Manuel Jamaca, and the police promptly denied that there was any mass grave in Canda. But the story had the virtue of attracting other reporters to the area – and some of them stumbled across the bodies that had been dumped in Macossa.

The independent television station STV filmed bodies lying under a bridge over the Piro river and in a nearby field. STV put the number of bodies at 13, and Lusa at 15, although the police, who buried the bodies a few days later, said there were 11. To date, nobody has identified these victims, and it is not known who killed them or why

The chairperson of the parliamentary commission, Edson Macuacua, told reporters that the information given by the Lusa delegate would help in the collection of more information related to the case.

“For us, it was important to hear from Lusa, as the medium that was the primary source of the information about the alleged existence of the grave”, said Macuacua, adding that the story had later been associated with “deceitful images”.

Source: Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique