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    2 April, 2009
Mogincual deaths due to

The death by asphyxiation of 13 prisoners in an overcrowded police cell in Liupo, capital of the northern district of Mogincual, on 17 March, was the result of police "negligence and lack of professionalism", said Prime Minister Luisa Diogo on 27 March.

The Prime Minister was addressing the Assembly the Republic in an emergency debate on the Mogincual deaths, requested by the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union.

Diogo stressed that the government is committed to the defence of human rights, and to constitutional provision that all citizens enjoy the right to life. She described what happened in Mogincual as "repugnant", and "an affront to the rule of law, to national reconciliation and to development".

Diogo added that the government is implementing a strategic plan for the justice sector, intended to modernise the entire administration of justice, "so that citizens will have speedy access to justice, and will be treated with dignity".

She said the police officers in Mogincual who allowed the tragedy to happen are being held responsible, and will face both disciplinary and criminal proceedings.

Giving further details, of the Mogincual events, Interior Minister Jose Pacheco, placed them in the context of a wave of rumours in the coastal parts of Nampula province that claimed that health workers and Red Cross activists, far from combating an outbreak of cholera were spreading the disease.

When volunteers from the Mozambican Red Cross (CVM) visited communities and urged them to disinfect wells with chlorine, a rumour alleged that the chlorine actually causes the disease. The result has been a series of riots in Mogincual and the neighbouring district of Angoche, in which Red Cross activists have been murdered, their property stolen and their houses burnt to the ground.

Pacheco said that such disturbances occurred in the Mogincual locality of Quinga on 13 March, leading to the death of a local trader, and the abduction of a woman CVM activist. The police intervened and rescued the activist, who was being buried alive.

Pacheco said the police arrested 29 people believed to be promoting the rumours, and took them to Mogincual where people detained for other offences were already incarcerated. Pacheco put the total number of prisoners in the cell at 34.

Television footage showed a small room with no windows, and just one small opening through which air could enter. The TV crew estimated that the cell measured 12 square metres. Its maximum capacity was for 10 people.

12 people died in this cell shortly after midnight. The autopsies, Pacheco said, showed that "the prisoners died of asphyxiation due to overcrowding of the cell, revealing negligence on the part of the leadership of the Mogincual district police command".

"The government", he added, "does not protect public servants who fail to carry out their mission of serving the people with zeal and professionalism". Three police officers (Mogincual district commander Domingos Countinho, the local head of the Criminal Investigation Police, Basilio Nakoto, and the officer on duty on the fatal night, Luis Abel) were thus suspended, while disciplinary proceedings were initiated. The Public Prosecutors Office also intervened, charging the three policemen with manslaughter.

Unlike several members of the parliamentary group of Frelimo, neither Diogo nor Pacheco attempted to blame the opposition for the deaths in the Mogincual cell. But they did condemn the cholera riots, which have been widely blamed on Renamo. "The government repudiates disinformation and incitement to violence", stressed Pacheco, "and protects and defends the victims".

The riots were an assault on the rule of law, he said, and were "a threat to the peace and harmony which characterize the Mozambican family".

In the debate that followed Renamo claimed that Frelimo had "assassinated" the prisoners, and was a party "soaked in blood". Jose Manteigas declared, "Frelimo is used to living off blood. It is no coincidence that the entire Frelimo flag is red. Frelimo kills those who don't agree with it".

Manteigas demanded the resignation of Pacheco. "This is what the people expect from (President Armando) Guebuza", he said. "Frelimo and the government should be held responsible, and the families of the dead properly compensated".

For Frelimo, Mateus Katupha put the Mogincual events into a pattern of Renamo violence over the years, claiming that Renamo's preferred targets are always "teachers, health workers, policemen".

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