The High Court case in Swaziland to test the legality of the kingdom’s laws that repress freedom of speech and association was started and adjourned this week.
The Suppression of Terrorism Act 2008 (STA) and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act 1938 (SSAA) were on trial in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The two acts have been extensively used by King Mswati and the Swazi Government that he handpicks to stifle opposition to the regime. In particular it targets individuals and groups who advocate for multi-party democracy.
Political parties are not allowed to contest elections and parties and groups that advocate for democracy are banned under the STA.
The Swaziland High Court began a two-day hearing on Tuesday (8 September 2015). On the second day the case was adjourned because there was not enough time to hear the case fully. It has been rescheduled for 8 and 9 October 2015.
Advocates against the two acts are arguing that they are unconstitutional as they infringe the right to free expression. They say the definitions of ‘terrorism’ and ‘sedition’ are too vague and can be applied at times when people have legitimate rights to speak or act.
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which monitored the court hearing said, ‘This hearing was a consolidation of four separate cases – each of which involved criminal charges in terms of these laws which had been brought against activists who had expressed opinions against the Swazi governmental system. What characterized the activities that led to these charges was that they were all peaceful.’
The case is highlighting Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and Maxwell Dlamini, Secretary General of PUDEMO’s youth wing, SWAYOCO. They were arrested and charged with sedition, subversion and terrorism after participating at a May Day celebration in 2014. They were accused of supporting PUDEMO, which had been banned under the STA. They were in pre-trial detention for nearly 15 months, before the Supreme Court released them on bail in July 2015.
Ahead of the court hearing, Jeffrey Smith of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, who is a close observer of Swaziland, wrote, ‘To be sure, Swaziland is not the peaceful, bucolic backwater that its authorities wish to present to the world. Like many architects of repressive regimes the world over, Swaziland’s King Mswati III — in power since 1986 — banks on the presumption that the world will not notice, or make a fuss about, the widespread human rights abuses taking place under his direction – not to mention his notoriously profligate and wasteful spending, while nearly 50 percent of his subjects live in chronic poverty.
‘The overall situation is so toxic that Swaziland recently became one of only three countries — which have not undergone a military coup — to have their African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligibility revoked due to unresolved human rights concerns. The other two countries are The Gambia and South Sudan– not exactly the best of company.
‘King Mswati has, over the years, increasingly and brazenly clamped down on human rights in Swaziland, conveniently capitalizing on a state of emergency that was first declared in 1973 by his father, King Sobhuza II. In effect to this day, the state of emergency banned public protests and political parties, later deeming the main opposition movement a “terrorist organization,” a pretext that has been repeatedly used to harass, intimidate and imprison outspoken critics and would-be challengers to royal authority. Indeed, despite Swaziland’s outward veneer as a peaceful enclave of “traditional African values,” the kingdom is home to a widespread culture of fear that pervades every conceivable facet of society.’
SCRAP SWAZI TERROR ACT – AMNESTY