A Mozambican court has handed jail terms of 24 years to three elite police officers and 23 years to another for the murder of a poll observer ahead of national elections in October last year.
Prosecutors last month had requested an “exemplary” and “severe” punishment for the four, accused of shooting Anastacio Matavele, 58, 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, respectively.
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.
Citing forensic reports, the prosecution told the hearing that Matavele’s vehicle was hit by 13 bullets, seven of which 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.
“The defendants were hunting Mr Matavele as if he were a rhino,” said Cumbe.
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 an “armed robbery”.
The trial was unprecedented in a country where murders and abductions of members of civil society, opposition politicians and journalists have become routine since 2015 but are typically sidelined for lack of evidence.
Adriano Nuvunga, the 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.
“Compensation for the family is too little. We are not happy!” said Nuvunga who previously described the murder as a “state crime”.
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, which has been in power since independence from Portugal in 1975.