Hounorable President Filipe Nyusi,
I am writing to you concerning the ongoing smear campaign against human rights defender (HRD), Bishop Don Luis Fernando Lisboa, of Pemba city.
On 14 August, in a press conference you gave in Pemba city, the capital of the Cabo Delgado province, you lamented those ‘foreigners’, who freely choose to live in Mozambique, of using human rights to disrespect the sacrifice of those who keep this young homeland. This statement triggered an onslaught of attacks on social media against Bishop Lisboa and his human rights work, with many users accusing Bishop Lisboa of associating with terrorists and insurgents. Furthermore, on 16 August, Egidio Vaz, a well-known government affiliate referred to Bishop Lisboa on his social media platform as “a criminal [who] should be expelled from Mozambique”.
The campaign to undermine and delegitimize the work of Bishop Lisboa is not new. In November 2019 Publico, a local pro-government newspaper, released an an article entitled, “Bishop sows seeds of violence.” On 22 June 2020, they same newspaper published an article accusing Bishop Lisboa of rebellion against the government and of disturbing the public order.
In the past, similar smear campaigns have led to the murder of human rights defenders, journalists, government critics and professors. Journalists and researchers who work to expose human rights violations and abuses in Cabo Delgado have been harassed, intimidated, arrested, detained and tortured with impunity. Bishop Lisboa provides vital support and aid to the population of Cabo Delgado province, who have fled their villages due to the ongoing armed conflict in the province. He needs to be protected from attacks, threats, intimidation and harassment.
In light of the above, I urge you to:
- End the smear campaign against Bishop Lisboa and refrain from using language that stigmatizes, abuses, disparages or discriminates against HRDs including by characterizing them as criminals, “foreigners”, terrorists, unpatriotic or of being morally corrupt.
- Ensure a safe and enabling environment for Bishop Lisboa and other HRDs so that they can carry out their vital human rights work without fear of attacks, intimidation and harassment;
- Refrain from harassing and intimidating people, including members of religious institutions, workers of non-governmental organisations and journalists.
- Ensure that the right to freedom of expression is fully respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled, and that human rights defenders are able to freely carry out their work without fear of attacks, intimidation, harassment and censorship.