Organisers of a Nelson Mandela memorial service to be held in a Swaziland church say police acted illegally when they broke it up.
About 30 armed police raided the Lutheran Church in Manzini, Swaziland’s main business city, and stopped people attending a prayer service to mark the life of Mandela.
The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), which organised the service on Friday (13 December 2013), along with Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders Forum, said in a statement. ‘The world must know that his majesty’s Government through the Royal Swaziland Police (RSP) has illegally, unreasonably as well as unjustifiably stopped Swazis from paying tribute to Mandela.’
Police officers armed with rifles and batons blocked people from entering the church. One local newspaper report said police targeted people attending the service who were known to have ‘progressive’ views.
Sidney Nyembe, of the Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders Forum, said the mourners were locked inside the church for allegedly defying an order preventing the public from holding the service. But, he said, police were unable to show documentation for the order.
He said, ‘We are alarmed at this wanton disregard for human rights and failure to honour the memory of Nelson Mandela. We condemn this in the most strongest of terms. It is an insult to what Nelson Mandela stood for and clearly shows that the Swazi regime cannot hide its disgust for anything resembling democracy.’
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned by the Swazi Constitution from taking part in elections and only 55 members of the kingdom’s 65-strong House of Assembly are selected by the king’s subjects. The king appoints the other members. No members of the Swaziland Senate are elected by the people. The king also chooses the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers and the chief judges.
The church service continued outside the church with police looking on.
Bishop AM Mnisi, was due to speak at the service. The text of his sermon, later released on social media, read in part, ‘It is painful to note that in many African countries today, there are still political prisoners. Christian souls that languish in jail for simple reason that they hold a different opinion. Security forces are deployed to block people and refuse them their rights of worship freely. Mandela fought for human rights as God’s given rights we ought to align ourselves with.’
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