Old folk in Swaziland kicked out two police spies from their Pensioners’ Association meeting.
In Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, public gatherings are strictly monitored.
It happened, according to the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, at the Roman Catholic Church Hall, in Mbabane, the kingdom’s capital. The meeting was for retired civil servants.
Two plain-clothed officers – one male and on female – were spotted by pensioners attending the meeting and forced to leave.
Chairman of the association Osvart Sukati was reported by the newspaper on Wednesday (24 August 2017) saying, ‘I bravely kicked them out because even culturally, children are not supposed to sit among elders when they have a meeting.’
The newspaper reported, ‘Former District Commissioner Elliot Mkhatshwa bluntly stated that the police had sent spies to illegally solicit information from them.’
The Swazi Observer reported the following day, ‘Chief Police Information and Communication Officer (CPICO) Khulani Mamba said they were surprised to learn that the police officer was chucked out of the meeting. “It is our normal duty to be present in meetings because we are interested in the safety and security of the state.
‘“We thought the pensioners would educate the police on what the issues they were deliberating in the meeting and allow him to sit and listen. It’s also not correct to say these people were sent by the commissioner as this is our normal duty,” Mamba said.’
The Observer also reported that the pensioners had passed a resolution demanding National Commissioner of Police Isaac Magagula be charged for disrespecting them by sending informants to their meeting.
Swaziland has a long record for denying freedom of association and assembly in the kingdom.
In 2016, a report by Human Rights Watch revealed King Mswati had failed to keep a promise made to the United Nations in 2011 to change repressive laws.
At a United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland, Swaziland had agreed to ‘[a]lign the national legislation with international standards to guarantee freedom of assembly and association, in particular as regards the notification of the organization of peaceful assemblies’.
In a report to the Working Group in May 2016, Human Rights Watch stated, ‘The [Swazi] government has yet to repeal, or amend as appropriate, a number of repressive laws that restrict basic rights guaranteed in Swaziland’s 2005 constitution, including freedom of association and assembly. On the contrary the government has intensified restrictions on these rights over the past four years. The laws in need of amendment include the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), the 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, and the 1963 Public Order Act.
‘Police have sweeping powers under the Public Order Act. The king’s 1973 decree banning political parties remains in force despite repeated calls from local political activists to have it revoked. The constitution does not address the formation or role of political parties. Section 79 of the constitution provides that Swaziland practices an electoral system based on individual merit and excludes the participation of political parties in elections.
‘Traditional leaders and chiefs have powers to restrict access to their territories, and have often used these powers to bar civil society groups and political groups like the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) and the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) from having meetings, recruiting, or any kind of presence in their areas. In 2011 PUDEMO challenged in court the government’s refusal to register political parties but the court said PUDEMO has no legal standing to approach the court as it did not exist as a legal entity.
‘The Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) places severe restrictions on civil society organizations, religious groups, and the media because it includes in the definition of “terrorist act” a wide range of legitimate conduct such as criticism of government, enabling officials to use the provisions of the Act to target perceived opponents of the government. The government has also misused the STA to target independent organizations by accusing them of being “terrorist” groups, and harassed civil society activists through abusive surveillance and unlawful searches of homes and offices.
‘Individuals who have been targeted for arrest or prosecution under the STA include the leaders of People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) who were arrested and detained under the STA in 2014. Police arrested PUDEMO leader Mario Masuku in May 2014, on terrorism charges for criticizing the government in a speech on May 1. At the time of writing Masuku was out of jail on bail pending the outcome of his trial. If convicted, he could serve up to 15 years in prison.
‘Police used violence to halt May Day celebrations organized by trade unions in May 2013. In March 2015 police beat leaders of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers and prevented them from hold a meeting ostensibly because the discussions would have included calls for multi-party democracy.’
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