Police in Swaziland forced a 13-year-old boy to remove his trousers and flogged him with a sjambok, in what one local newspaper called ‘one of the worst cases of brutality’ in the kingdom.
The boy, who has not been named by media, was reportedly whipped at Ngwenya police station after he was accused of stealing a mobile phone, worth less than E1,000 (US$70).
The Swazi News reported on Saturday (14 January 2017) the boy was taken alone into a room by two police officers.
The News reported, ‘He said he was accused of having stolen the phone and would be lashed until he revealed where it was.
‘The teenager said he told the officers that he did not know where it was or how it got lost but instead the officers instructed him to strip off his trousers and lie on the floor.’
The newspaper reported the boy saying, ‘One officer put his foot on the back of my neck while the other one lashed me twice with the sjambok.’
The boy told police he did not know where the phone was. The newspaper reported, ‘Tears and screams did not help as he was told to say where the phone was.
‘He said he maintained his position that he had no idea where it was and the officers allegedly said they would not release him until he spoke the truth. The confused and hurt young boy did not know what else to say since what was truth to him was not accepted by the police.’
The boy was forced to lie down on the cold stone floor and he was whipped once more, while a police officer’s foot pinned him down.
The News described the incident as ‘one of the worst cases of brutality’.
Police in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, routinely use torture.
In September 2016, women were reportedly ambushed by armed police and ‘brutally attacked’ by police during a strike at the Plantation Forest Company, near Pigg’s Peak.
The Observer on Saturday newspaper on 17 September 2016 reported what it called a ‘horror’ attack. It said a private security company called Siyavutsa assisted police.
The newspaper reported the attack happened at 4.45pm on Friday 9 September. A group of workers left the plantation premises and walked along a main road to their compound, Goedgegun, about 5 km away. ‘When all of a sudden a Siyavutsa vehicle swerved and came to an abrupt stop in front of the first group of about five workers and a swarm of armed police officers and dog handlers alighted.’
The newspaper added, ‘The different groups of about 15 workers allege that they all ran in different directions while the officers were in pursuit striking indiscriminately at anyone falling down. The women claim that the police officers alighted with rifles and batons while Siyavutsa dog handlers followed suit with the dogs. Shots were fired in the air while other officers bridged their service weapons.’
The newspaper added, ‘Vice Secretary of the Workers Union Wendy Simelane said she was struck with a baton by an officer identified as Manqoba Vilakati on the shin before she was dragged and thrown into a police van that had arrived to beef up the contingent on the scene.’
The Observer on Saturday reported, ‘It was then they, together with a handful of others, were driven deep into one of the forests. On the way the vehicle swerved to its sides making its cargo bang on the sides with their heads. By then all their mobile telephones were confiscated. At the swamp inside the forest the beatings continued with their assailants stomping on their arms and legs, including Simelane’s fractured leg.
The newspaper reported Simelane saying, ‘“All this time we pleaded with them why we were being assaulted but to deaf ears. By then my lower part of the leg was dangling signalling that the shin was shattered. At the same time, we were forced to do press-ups but I could not because my leg could not hold any longer,”’
The Observer reported that the police used wood stumps and branches from around the swamp to inflict more injury to the workers. They were then dragged and thrown into the police van, driven back to Mhlatane station where they found Siyavutsa guards waiting for their turn.
Later, they were taken to Pigg’s Peak police station ‘for another bout of torturing’. The newspaper reported that Simelane was tortured by being suffocated with a plastic bag until she vomited. She was forced into signing a confession that she had started fires in the forest.
This was one in a long series of torture cases involving police or security forces in Swaziland.
In June 2016, a United Nations review panel looking into human rights in Swaziland was told in a joint report by four organisations working to improve human rights, ‘In Mbabane [the Swazi capital], police tortured a 15-year-old boy after his mother had reported him for stealing E85.00 (US$6). The boy alleges that he was beaten with a slasher (metal blade tool for cutting grass) and knobkerrie (club) for five hours. While enduring the pain, he alleges that he was made to count the strokes aloud for the police to hear. Instead of being charged, the boy was physically assaulted and made to sit in a chair for thirty minutes before he was sent back home.’
The report was submitted to the United Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland by the Swaziland Multi-Media Community Network, Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders, Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations and Constituent Assembly – Swaziland.
They also reported the case of Phumelela Mkhweli, a political activist who died after an alleged assault by police after they arrested him.
The report also stated, ‘In April 2011, a 66-year-old woman was confronted by three police officers regarding the wording on her t-shirt and headscarf. The police allegedly pulled off her T-shirt, throttled her, banged her head against the wall, sexually molested her, kicked her and threw her against a police truck.
‘The US Department of State reported on many allegations of torture and ill-treatment by police; including beatings and temporary suffocation using rubber tube tied around the face, nose, and mouth, or plastic bags over the head,’ the report stated.
In addition to those cases reported to the United Nations review panel, there have been numerous reports of torture by police and military personnel in Swaziland over the past few years.
In July 2015, Swazi MP Titus Thwala reported that Swaziland soldiers beat up old ladies so badly they had to be taken to their homes in wheelbarrows. He said that elderly women were among the local residents who were regularly beaten by soldiers at informal crossing points between Swaziland and South Africa. Thwala said the soldiers made people do push ups and other exercises.
In 2011, a man was reportedly beaten with guns and tortured for three hours by soldiers who accused him of showing them disrespect. He was ordered to do press ups, frog jumps and told to run across a very busy road and was beaten with guns every time he tried to resist. His crime was that he tried to talk to a man whose vehicle was being searched by soldiers at Maphiveni.
The Army in Swaziland, in effect, has a shoot-to-kill policy. In May 2011, three unarmed South African men were shot dead by Swazi soldiers when they were caught trying to smuggle four cows from Swaziland into the Republic.
In July 2011, three armed soldiers left a man for dead after he tried to help a woman they were beating up. And in a separate incident, a woman was beaten by two soldiers after she tried to stop them talking to her sister.
In January 2010 soldiers were warned that their attacks on civilians amounted to a ‘shoot to kill’ policy and this was unconstitutional.
There have been many accounts of soldiers killing or beating up civilians, including a cold-blooded murder of two women accused of smuggling a car across the border with South Africa; a man who had five bullets pumped into his body after being beaten to a pulp; an attack on sex workers after three soldiers refused to pay them for their services; an attack by a bus load of soldiers on a security guard after he asked them to move their vehicle; and five drunk soldiers who terrorised two boys, smashing one of them to a pulp.
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