Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Swaziland got the worst-possible score for political rights in the latest Freedom House report.

And it didn’t do much better for civil liberties.

Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, received a score of 7 for political rights (1 = most free; 7 = least free). It got 5 for civil liberties. These are the only two categories Freedom House examines.

Freedom House concluded Swaziland is ‘not free’.

The ruling comes just as mass protests for democracy are about to take place in Swaziland. Next Tuesday (12 April 2011) an ‘uprising’ coordinated by a Facebook group is due to start. The teachers’ union SNAT plans three-days of protests starting on the same day.

The protestors have a raft of demands but at the centre is a call for the kingdom to be transformed into a democracy. A mass demonstration in Swaziland on 18 March 2011 demanded the resignation of the entire government.

Below are some extracts from the ‘political rights and civil liberties’ section of the Freedom House 2010 report. To read the full document click here.

Corruption is a major problem. The monarchy spends lavishly despite the largely impoverished population, and members of Parliament engage in fraud and graft. The government’s Anti-Corruption Unit was not authorized to seize assets or enforce penalties on both bribe payers and bribe takers until 2006, nearly a decade after it was created. Swaziland was ranked 79 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The king can suspend constitutional rights to free expression at his discretion, and these rights are severely restricted in practice, especially with respect to speech on political issues or the royal family.

Publishing criticism of the monarchy is banned, and self-censorship is widespread, as journalists are routinely subject to threats and attacks by the authorities. The attorney general and other officials have threatened journalists with arrest under the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) since its passage in 2008. ...

The government has restricted freedoms of assembly and association, and permission to hold political gatherings has often been denied. Prodemocracy protesters are routinely dispersed and arrested by police. The STA grants the government sweeping powers to declare an organization a “terrorist group,” and it has already been widely abused by authorities, according to Amnesty International. Police harassment and surveillance of civil society organizations has increased. In April 2009, a demonstration by church and labor groups calling for free education resulted in clashes between police and demonstrators. ...

Security forces violently dispersed large March 2008 strikes by public transport and textile workers in the country’s worst labor unrest for decades. Some of the strikers vandalized Asian-owned shops; Swaziland’s textile factories are owned by Taiwanese firms. ...

According to the U.S. State Department, there were numerous incidents of police torture, beatings, and suspicious deaths in custody in 2009.Security forces generally operate with impunity. Inthe last four months of 2008, the army was deployed to man checkpoints throughout the country due to unrest, and new army camps were set up in parts of northern Swaziland that were believed to be sympathetic to PUDEMO [a group branded ‘terrorists’ under the STA]. This military presence continued at a reduced level in 2009.

Prisons are overcrowded, and inmates are subject to torture, beatings, rape, and a lack of sanitation. While the constitution prohibits torture, the ban is not enforceable in court. The spread of HIV/AIDS is a major problem in Swazi prisons.

The constitution grants women equal rights and legal status as adults. However, women’s rights are still very restricted in practice. While both the legal code and customary law provide some protection against gender-based violence, it is common and often tolerated with impunity. In 2007, a survey found that one-third of Swazi women had been subjected to sexual violence and two-thirds had been beaten or abused.

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