The Health Minister of Swaziland / Eswatini Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane called on police to arrest a journalist who was photographing government ministers’ cars outside the Deputy Prime Minister’s office.
She demanded that the photographs be deleted which the journalist did.
It happened on Friday, according to a report in the Sunday Observer in Swaziland (15 July 2018).
The newspaper had previously published a report about government ministers’ BMW cars being in a bad state of repair. It was checking a government claim that the vehicles had been repaired and were back on the road.
The newspaper reported the journalist clearly identified himself to Ndlela-Simelane but she demanded that security personnel call the police.
It added, ‘As soon as she left, the security warned the reporter about the issue at hand and requested assistance from a female police officer on what to do with him. She advised him to let the journalist go as there was nothing they could charge him on.’
Journalists face harassment all the time in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as one of the world’s last absolute monarchs. Broadcasting is severely censored and one of only two national newspaper groups in the kingdom is in effect owned by the King.
In February 2018 prison warders attacked a journalist in a public street near Kwaluseni when he took photographs of them travelling in the backs of overcrowded vehicles.
In December 2017 editor of Swaziland Shopping Zweli Martin Dlamini fled to neighbouring South Africa after he received death threats. He had written a story about the King’s dealings in the telecommunications industry.
In January 2017 the editor of the Times Sunday Innocent Maphalala and senior reporter on the paper Mfanukhona Nkambule received threats of grievous bodily harm, ‘possibly even leading to death’, according to the Times of Swaziland newspaper. It said, ‘The threats emanate from a story the publication is pursuing regarding one of the country’s security forces which has engaged in an action that has compromised this country internationally.’
It reported, ‘Further attempts to engage the Times Managing Editor, Martin Dlamini, and the Publisher, Paul Loffler, also failed to convince this publication to drop the story. Even though the people who issued the threats remain faceless, they threatened that should the story see the light of day, the duo risked being eliminated.’
There is no media freedom in Swaziland, according to the latest annual report from Reporters Without Borders which ranked the kingdom at number 152 out of 180 countries in the world ranking. It stated the kingdom, ‘prevents journalists from working freely and obstructs access to information. No court is allowed to prosecute or try members of the government, but any criticism of the regime is liable to be the subject of a prosecution. For fear of reprisals, journalists censor themselves almost systematically.’
The US State Department in a review of human rights in Swaziland for 2017 stated, ‘Officials impeded press freedom. Although no law bans criticism of the monarchy, the prime minister and other officials cautioned journalists against publishing such criticism with veiled threats of newspaper closure or job loss.’
The report stated, ‘The law empowers the government to ban publications if it deems them “prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.” Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Journalists expressed fear of judicial reprisals for their reporting on some High Court cases and matters involving the monarchy.’
The report stated, ‘Broadcast media remained firmly under state control. Most persons obtained their news from radio broadcasts. A controversial ministerial decree prohibiting MPs from speaking on the radio was apparently lifted. The government noted the decree had never been enforced. There was no instance, however, in which an MP had violated it. Despite invitations issued by the media regulatory authority for parties to apply for licenses, no licenses were awarded. Stations practiced self-censorship and refused to broadcast anything perceived as critical of the government or the monarchy.’
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