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Mozambique policemen jailed for the murder of Anastacio Matevele

Filipe Mahajane, spokesperson for the Matavele family, holds a portrait of murdered Anastacio Matavele in Mozambique [File: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP]
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A court in Mozambique has handed jail terms of 24 years to three elite police officers. A 23 years term also to another for the murder of a poll observer ahead of national elections in October last year.

Prosecutors last month had requested severe punishment for the four, accused of shooting Anastacio Matavele. Matavele was killed behind the wheel of his car in the southern city of Xai-Xai.

The men were also ordered to pay a total of $21,000 in compensation to Matavele’s family. Two of their colleagues received lesser sentences of two and three years, each.

The killers were caught red-handed after colliding into another car as they fled the scene, allowing police to link the murder to Mozambique’s elite rapid intervention unit.

How Matavele was Killed

Citing forensic reports, the prosecution told the hearing that Matavele’s vehicle was hit by 13 bullets. Seven of the bullets entered the victim’s back and legs.

“There is no doubt that the defendants’ intention was to kill,” prosecutor Leonardo Cumbe said last month during the hearing. Cumbe further said “the defendants were hunting Mr Matavele as if he were a rhino”.

Related: 60 people found dead in Mozambique

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The defendants were charged with voluntary homicide, conspiracy, forgery and illegal use of firearms. Their lawyer, Elisio de Sousa, claimed during the trial that the observer was killed in the context of armed robbery.

Adriano Nuvunga, head of local pro-democracy charity Center for Democracy and Development, described the sentences as half victory.

“The masterminds are drinking cold beer at home. The big crooks and the state are off the hook,” he tweeted. He however said that he is not happy about how little the compensation for Matavele’s family is.

Matavele’s assassination sparked an outcry, occurring in the run-up to crucial elections that were troubled by violence and accusations of fraud.

The election was won by President Filipe Nyusi and his Frelimo party. The Frelimo party has been in power since Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975.