Only days after it was learnt that people who criticise King Mswati of Swaziland face two years’ jail, the King misled the UN General Assembly saying that ‘all citizens’ have the opportunity to air their views.
King Mswati was speaking at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday (20 September 2017).
The King who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch in a kingdom where political parties are banned from contesting elections and prodemocracy campaigners are prosecuted under the Suppression of Terrorism Act, said, ‘The kingdom of eSwatini [Swaziland] is committed to peace and a decent life for all. We are also firm believers in the principle of consultative decision-making. This involves a transparent and all-inclusive undertaking that grants every citizen an opportunity to voice their views in order to constructively contribute to the social, economic, cultural and political development of the country.’
He did not say that his unelected government had just passed the Public Order Act. This allows for critics of the King or the Swazi Government to be fined E10,0000 (US$770), imprisoned for two years or both for inciting ‘hatred or contempt’ against cultural and traditional heritage. In Swaziland seven out of ten people have incomes less than US$2 a day.
The Act also targets gatherings of 50 or more people in a public place where policy actions or criticisms of any government or organisation are made.
The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom where reporting the activities of King Mswati and his family is severely restricted, reported, ‘These gatherings could be those which are convened or held to form pressure groups, to hand over petitions to any person or to mobilise or demonstrate support for or opposition to the views, principles, policy, actions or omissions of any person, organisation including any government administration or institution.
‘The Act states that to avoid any doubt people who also speak ill or incite hatred against the cultural and traditional heritage of the country could be those who are involved in a picket or protest action.
‘Other acts that carry a similar penalty also include a person who trashes, burns or otherwise destroys, defaces or defiles or damages any national insignia or emblem. The nation insignia or other emblem has been defined by the Act as any weaving, embroidery, sewing, drawing, picture, illustration and painting which represents His Majesty, the Indlovukati [King’s mother], national flag or Swaziland Coat of Arms.’
Swaziland has been criticised by many international groups for its lack of democracy.
The Swazi people are only allowed to select 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, the other 10 are appointed by the King. None of the 30 members of the Swaziland Senate are elected by the people: the King appoints 20 members and the other 10 are appointed by the House of Assembly.
In 2016, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre reported all opposition to the rule of the King Mswati is treated as ‘terrorism’.
In 2015, the United States withdrew trading benefits under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) because of Swaziland’s poor record on human rights.
International human rights organisations Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2016, said ‘The Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), 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.’
The STA was ‘regularly used’ by the police to interfere in trade union activities, Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) said in a submission to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in 2015.
Amnesty International has criticised of Swaziland for the ‘continued persecution of peaceful political opponents and critics’ by the King and his authorities. It said the Swazi authorities were using the Acts, ‘to intimidate activists, further entrench political exclusion and to restrict the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly’.
In September 2016 Swaziland’s High Court ruled that sections of the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act were unconstitutional. The Government is appealing the ruling.
JAIL FOR DEFACING PICTURE OF KING
OPPOSITION TO KING IS ‘TERRORISM’
SWAZILAND LAST ON POLITICAL FREEDOM
SWAZILAND FAILS ON FREEDOM PROMISE
SWAZILAND FAILS ON FREEDOM PROMISE
REPORT TELLS UN OF RIGHTS ABUSES
COURT: TERROR ACT UNCONSTITUTIONAL