Authorities in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, shut down one march and initially blocked another in the latest onslaught against free expression in the country. On March 1, police officers armed with rifles disrupted a march organized by a local primary school to mark the city’s annual carnival. Four days later, the mayor of Maputo rejected plans for Mozambique’s leading women’s rights group, Forum Mulher, to march against domestic violence on International Women’s Day.

An organizer of Nyoxani Primary School’s children’s carnival told Human Rights Watch they had asked for police protection prior to their event, but after receiving no response from the mayor’s office, decided to proceed. To their surprise, as soon as the two lines of 300 children moved off the school premises, police vehicles blocked them. The school principal says an officer then produced a document stating the mayor had refused to authorize the march because it was taking place on a weekday and could cause “excessive noise.”

Meanwhile, Forum Mulher first wrote to the mayor’s office on February 12, requesting a police escort for their march. The reply, on March 4, said that the march could not take place during normal working hours because it could cause traffic congestion and excessive noise. But after criticism on social media, the mayor on March 7 – just a day before International Women’s Day – let the protest go ahead, without explaining his change of mind. 

The authorities’ heavy-handed approach comes weeks after police tried to stop a campaign against Mozambique’s secret debt, launched by the country’s anti-corruption group, CIP (Public Integrity Center). On January 21, police officers began confiscating campaign T-shirts of people leaving the CIP’s offices in Maputo, alleging they could “create agitation.”

Under Mozambican law, public marches do not need any authorization and only require local authorities to be notified four days prior to allow for police protection and traffic arrangements.

Stopping women and children from demonstrating not only violates people’s freedom of expression, but also shows how just repressive Mozambican authorities have become.