MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) — Mozambican fans of deceased protest rapper Azagaia have vowed to keep marching in his honor, even though police violently dispersed demonstrations in Maputo and other cities last week.
Peaceful demonstrations will go ahead with or without police authorization, said David Fardo, an organiser of the marches. He did not say when or where new marches would take place.
Thousands assembled in cities across Mozambique last week to pay tribute to Azagaia, a rare outspoken government critic who died on March 9 at the age of 38. Although the assemblies were peaceful police fired tear gas and arrested some marchers.
In the capital, Maputo, at least 19 people were injured, two of them seriously. One of those injured lost an eye after a tear gas canister struck his face, according to local reports. Police also beat an unarmed man lying on the ground before dragging him into a police car, according to march organizers and a video circulating online.
Across Mozambique, 36 people were arrested, 20 of them in Maputo, according to a police statement, which accused demonstrators of drunken and violent behavior.
Organizers of the marches have received threatening messages warning them not to plans any further demonstrations, said Fardo.
The police actions to disperse the marches has drawn criticism from human rights watchdogs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The United Nations Human Rights Office issued a statement expressing concern over the “unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police amid peaceful marches” and called for the release of those who have been arbitrarily detained.
Azagaia, whose real name was Edson da Luz, was known for openly condemning government corruption in his music and garnered a large following, particularly among young Mozambicans. He died of an epileptic seizure.
“This march aims to be the first of many marches,” Venâncio Mondlane, a member of Mozambique’s National Assembly for the second largest opposition party MDM, told The Associated Press at the demonstration last week. “This march turns a new page in the history of Mozambique, just as we had in 1975 (when Mozambique won independence from Portugal).”
These nationwide demonstrations came after Azagaia’s funeral procession, which saw thousands march through the streets of central Maputo chanting protest slogans such as “resistance” and “power to the people.” Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd as it tried to carry Azagaia’s coffin past Ponta Vermelha, the president’s official residence.
Mozambique has sometimes seen protests over the prices of fuel and bread but such mass demonstrations celebrating opposition activists are unusual.
The day after Azagaia died, a vigil was held in Maputo where hundreds came to hear tributes, many of which explicitly criticised the country’s ruling party Frelimo.
Azagaia achieved a passionate following, and notoriety, with songs such as “Povo no Poder” (“Power to the People”) which was released in 2008 during protests over rising fuel prices. The rapper accused politicians of stealing from ordinary people to lead lives of luxury. It has since become an anthem of opposition to the government. In other songs Azagaia commented on issues such as police brutality and drug trafficking.
While he was alive Azagaia was often treated with hostility by the government. His songs were generally censored on state media and the Attorney General’s Office accused him of inciting violence following the release of “Povo no Poder.”
AP journalist Alexandre Nhampossa in Maputo, Mozambique, contributed.