‘Respect for human rights and the rule of law declined in the Kingdom of Swaziland, ruled by an absolute monarch, King Mswati III, since 1986. Political parties are banned, judicial independence is severely compromised, and repressive laws are used to target critics of the government and the King.’
These were the conclusions of Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2016, published on Wednesday (27 January 2016).
The report stated, ‘As in previous years, Swazi authorities severely restricted civil and political rights. In March 2015, police beat leaders of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and prevented them from holding a meeting, ostensibly because the discussions would have included calls for multiparty democracy. Among those severely beaten was a prominent trade unionist, the SNAT Secretary General Muzi Mhlanga.
‘The Suppression of Terrorism Act, the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938, and other similarly draconian legislation provided sweeping powers to the security services to halt meetings and protests and to curb criticism of the government, even though such rights are protected under Swaziland’s 2005 constitution. In September 2015, eight human rights defenders challenged the constitutionality of these security laws in the High Court of Swaziland. A final ruling has yet to be handed down.’
In a detailed analysis of Swaziland, HRW, highlighted media freedom as a particular problem.
It said, ‘Journalists and activists who criticized the government were often harassed and arrested. The Sedition and Subversive Activities Act continued to restrict freedom of expression through criminalizing alleged seditious publications and use of alleged seditious words, such as those which “may excite disaffection” against the king. Published criticism of the ruling party is also banned. Many journalists practiced self-censorship, especially with regard to reports involving the king, to avoid harassment by authorities.
‘On June 30 , the Supreme Court of Swaziland granted an appeal by human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, and editor of The Nation magazine, Bheki Makhubu, and ordered their immediate release from prison. Maseko and Makhubu were arrested in March 2014 for two articles they published in The Nation questioning the impartiality of the judiciary, and sentenced to two years in prison. Civil society groups dismissed the trial as a sham.
‘In July 2014, The Nation and its publishers were fined an equivalent of US$9,500 by the Swaziland High Court for publishing “seditious” information in the two articles that Maseko wrote.
‘Authorities also barred media from reporting on issues they deemed sensitive. For example, when scores of young girls died in a road traffic accident on August 28  on their way to an annual Umhlanga festival where thousands of virgins dance before the king to celebrate womanhood and virginity, authorities blocked media reporting of the incident. The government later said 13 people had died. Regional and international media disputed the government’s figure and estimated the death toll at 65.’
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