The Supreme Court in Swaziland /eSwatini postponed hearing the government’s appeal against a judgement declaring parts of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act and Suppression of Terrorism Act unconstitutional because it did not have enough judges to form a bench.
Usually, the Chief Justice Bheki Maphalala sits with four other judges. The Times of Swaziland on Wednesday (20 March 2019) reported there were seven judges in the Supreme Court and Maphalala said a majority of them had dealt with the matter one way or the other in the past.
He said the case would be postponed until they could find sufficient judges.
The case had originally been tabled for October 2017 but did not go ahead because the government’s representatives did not attend court. The case was reinstated in March 2018 and has taken a year to get to its current position.
Both Acts have been used by successive governments of King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch to stop advocates for democratic reform. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and all senior judges.
In September 2016, Swaziland’s High Court ruled that sections of the two Acts were unconstitutional. Judges said the Acts contravened provisions in the Constitution on freedom of expression and freedom of association.
The ruling was delivered after years of campaigning to have the Acts overturned.
In 2015 Amnesty International renewed its criticism of Swaziland for the ‘continued persecution of peaceful political opponents and critics’ by the King and his authorities.
The human rights organisation called for the two Acts to be scrapped or drastically rewritten.
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.’
Amnesty said the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act violated Swaziland’s human rights obligations. It placed the onus on the accused to prove that their alleged acts, utterances or documents published were not done with ‘seditious intention’.
The Act also obliged courts to conduct proceedings in camera relating to an offence under the Act if so requested by the prosecution.
Amnesty also said the Suppression of Terrorism Act was incompatible with Swaziland’s human rights obligations because of, ‘The failure to restrict the definition of ‘terrorist act’ to the threatened or actual use of violence against civilians;
‘The failure of the definition to meet the requirements of legality, that is, accessibility, precision, applicability to counter-terrorism alone, non-discrimination and non-retroactivity.’
It added offences were, ‘defined with such over-breadth and imprecision that they place excessive restrictions on a wide range of human rights, including the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression.’
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