Today (3 May 2011) is World Press Freedom Day. It is traditional at this time to review the state of media freedom in countries across the world. Swaziland is no exception. As even the most casual observer can see the press is not free in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
What follows a part of an annual report from the United States State Department on human rights in Swaziland that deals with press censorship in Swaziland.
The report covers the year 2010 and was released on 8 April 2011.
To read the full report that includes sections on the use of torture, prison and detention center conditions, arbitrary arrest or detention, role of the police and security apparatus, denial of fair public trial, and other areas of human rights violations, click here.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the king may waive these rights at his discretion, and the government restricted these rights during the year. Although no law bans criticism of the monarchy, the prime minister and other officials warned journalists that publishing such criticism could be construed as an act of sedition or treason, and media organizations were threatened with closure for criticizing the monarchy. The law empowers the government to ban publications if they are deemed "prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health." Most journalists practiced self-censorship.
The king may suspend the constitutional right to free expression at his discretion, and the government severely restricted freedom of expression, especially regarding political issues or the royal family. For example, Justice Minister Ndumiso resigned in August amidst allegations of a romantic relationship between the minister and King Mswati III's 12th wife, Queen Nothando Dube. Despite intense local and regional interest, no Swazi media outlet reported on why the minister resigned.
Individuals and their family members who criticized the monarchy risked exclusion from the traditional regiments' (chiefdom-based groupings of Swazi males dedicated to serving the king) patronage system that distributed scholarships, land, and other benefits. Traditional chiefs were obliged to punish offenders when matters were brought to their attention. During the year the prime minister warned journalists against making statements that could be interpreted as seditious.
Daily newspapers criticized government corruption and inefficiency, but generally avoided criticizing the royal family.
In December 2009 the attorney general told newspaper editors that promoting or giving support to terrorists remained a serious crime. In 2008 the attorney general warned that journalists who criticized the government could be viewed as supporting terrorists and arrested under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
Journalists continued to be threatened, harassed, and assaulted during the year.
For example, on February 12, during the official opening of parliament, photographers from the Times of Swaziland were harassed for taking pictures of the traditional marula brew that was kept in some offices in parliament. One of the journalists, Walter Dlamini, was detained by police and forced to delete the photographs before being able to attend the rest of the celebration.
On March 22, Swazi Observer newspaper editor Sifiso Dhlamini resigned after a Mbabane City Council board member advised him not to publish an article about former Mbabane City Council CEO Gideon Mhlongo; he later withdrew his resignation.
On September 6, a Times of Swaziland journalist was harassed and detained by police while covering a meeting organized by the Swaziland Democracy Campaign. Police confiscated his camera and briefly kept it at the Manzini police station.
On September 8, a female journalist from the Swazi Observer was harassed by paramilitary police for recording a riot scene during a workers' protest march.
During the year the Swaziland Broadcasting Information Services banned trade unions from airing announcements at radio stations unless they had permission from the police.
Defamation laws were used to restrict the press.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail.
Internet cafes existed in cities, but most citizens lived in rural areas. An estimated 4.2 percent of inhabitants used the Internet, according to International Telecommunication Union statistics for 2008.