Three democracy leaders in Swaziland (eSwatini) were detained by police when protesters tried to march through the industrial town of Matsapha.
The march was halted after it had been banned by the courts hours earlier.
It was the latest activity from the recently-organised Political Party Assembly (PPA). Political parties are banned in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
It happened on Thursday (12 December 2019) when the PPA wanted to march from factory to factory in the town to drum up support.
Those detained were Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA) President Jan Sithole; Ngwane National Liberation Congress (NNLC) President Sibongile Mazibuko; and Zodwa Mkhonta, Deputy President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).
The leaders were arrested on the streets of Matsapha, taken to the local police station and later released.
The Times of eSwatini said there were also unconfirmed reports that police from the Serious Crime Unit (Lukhozi) rounded up ordinary members of the PPA at the assembly point for the march.
Protest marches are routinely banned in Swaziland where freedom of assembly is severely curtailed.
In July 2019 Human Rights Watch reported restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continued in Swaziland although the kingdom had signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in January 2018, the government has not taken steps to ratify and implement the charter.
Amnesty International in a review of Swaziland for 2017 / 2018 stated, ‘The Public Order Act and the Suppression of Terrorism Act severely limited the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.’
It added, The Public Order Act, ‘curtailed the rights to freedom of assembly and association, imposing far-reaching restrictions on organizers of public gatherings. The Act also failed to provide mechanisms to hold law enforcement officials accountable for using excessive force against protesters or public gatherings.’
Freedom House scored Swaziland 16 out of a possible 100 points in its Freedom in the World 2019 report. It concluded that Swaziland was ‘not free’.
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