The International Press Institute (IPI) calls on Mozambican lawmakers to withdraw a controversial bill that would hinder the work of non-governmental organizations. Among other things, the legislation would give the government the power to shutter NGOs, including those that defend press freedom and free expression.

As it begins its new session, Mozambique’s parliament is set to consider legislation on the creation, organization, and operation of nonprofit organizations. According to the government, the bill’s primary objective is to fight money laundering and terrorism as the country tries to contain an armed insurgency and internal conflict since October 2017.

However, the bill if passed in its current formulation would give excessive power to the government to interfere with the activities of non-governmental organizations, according to reports and NGO representatives in Mozambique. Among other things, NGOs would be required to consist of at least 10 people and would be forced to submit an accounting of their activities and funds to the government, which would have the power shut them down without a court order for noncompliance.

Human rights advocates in Mozambique have criticized the proposed draft as a violation of freedom of association and an attempt to silence them and their work on transparency, good governance, and democracy.

The Mozambican government has argued that the law responds to recommendations by the Financial Activities Task Force, which placed Mozambique under enhanced monitoring due to fears over the financing of terrorism in the country.

“We urge Mozambican lawmakers to reject this bill in its current form, which disproportionately infringes on freedom of association and grants the government excessive powers that could lead to harassment of civil society organizations critical of the government, including groups working on press freedom and free expression issues”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “Any legislation affecting the work of NGOs must be developed in consultation with them to ensure that it does not undermine their fundamental work of helping to consolidate democracy and promote human rights in Mozambique.”

IPI carried out a four-day press freedom mission to Mozambique in August 2022. The report from the mission, released in December 2022, found that independent journalism in Mozambique is facing considerable legal, political, and economic pressures as the country’s hard-fought democratic gains of the past three decades come under increasing strain. The findings were discussed in an online forum in January 2023.

Mozambican authorities have used terrorism and security issues in the past to restrict the space for free expression. Last June, Mozambique’s National Assembly passed an amended anti-terror bill that threatens press freedom. Authorities have also prevented journalists from access to conflict areas.

In April 2020, community radio journalist Ibraimo Mbaruco disappeared in the conflict-ridden Cabo Delgado region. His fate is unknown. IPI has highlighted Mbrauco’s disappearance as a clear case of impunity for attacks on journalists in Africa.