Police in Swaziland beat up a journalist and demanded he delete photographs he took of them attacking and shooting at striking textile workers.
It was one of many cases of police and state forces attacking and harassing journalists in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Broadcasting is severely censored and one of only two national newspaper groups in the kingdom is in effect owned by the King.
It happened on Thursday (30 August 2018) at Nhlangano where workers, mostly women, were protesting about poor pay.
Andile Nsibande of the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom (recently renamed Eswatini by King Mswati), was viciously attacked by police officers and prison warders who had been sent to assist them, the Times’ companion newspaper the Times Sunday reported.
‘The officers kicked and punched the defenceless newsman until he fell to the ground,’ it said. ‘They further hurled expletives at him.’
Nsibande was treated in hospital.
More than 200 paramilitary police and correctional facility warders with riot shields, helmets and batons were in Nhlangano on Thursday. Police fired several gunshots. It was the third police attack on workers in a week and one of many in recent times.
Police and security forces in Swaziland routinely physically attack or harass journalists.
In July 2018, the Health Minister Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane called on police to arrest a Swazi Observer 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. 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.
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.’
Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu gained international attention when in 2014 they were sentenced to two years in jail after writing and publishing articles in the Nation magazine that were critical of the Swazi judiciary. They were released by the Swazi Supreme Court on 30 June 2015 after they had served 15 months of their sentences.
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, ‘Broadcast media remained firmly under state control. Most persons obtained their news from radio broadcasts.’
In 2015, Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland) and CIVICUS, an international human rights group, in a submission to the United Nations listed a number of media freedom violations in Swaziland. It said the Swazi Government, which is not elected but appointed by the King, ‘strictly controls freedom of expression and the media’.
They added, ‘Reporting on royal and political matters is severely restricted. Further, regular threats emanating from senior government officials and the royal family to journalists also lead to government censorship and self-censorship by the media further curtailing democratic freedoms’.
The joint report added, ‘On 15 January 2014, the government-controlled Swazi Observer newspaper suspended its editor Thulani Thwala and weekend editor Alec Lushaba after they were accused of failing to adhere to the mandate of the newspaper by publishing negative news stories about the King.
‘The journalists were accused of failing to heed several warnings not to publish damaging reports about the King. Prior to the suspension, they published reports indicating that the Swazi government had solicited a financial bailout from South Africa. Eight months after their suspension, the Board of Directors of the Swazi Observer Newspaper Group reinstated them.
‘The Swazi Observer newspaper is controlled by the Tibiyo Taka Ngwane conglomerate, which is owned by the King. News items published are highly censored.’
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