A newspaper in Swaziland (eSwatini) in effect owned by the absolute monarch King Mswati III has confirmed that police raids on homes across the kingdom were to seek out political activists.
The Observer on Saturday, part of the eSwatini Observer group, reported, ‘Police have intelligence on state security that has required the conducting of raids at homesteads belonging to political activists and the bringing in for interviews at their stations of these activists who are leaders of different political groupings.’
It reported a press conference given by Royal Eswatini Police Service National Commissioner William Dlamini after the raids on Friday (20 December 2019).
Leaders of at least five pro-democracy groups were taken to police stations and interrogated. All were released but phones, laptops, tablets and other devices were kept.
Political activity in Swaziland is severely curtailed. Parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups advocating democracy are outlawed under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. The King rules as an absolute monarch in a political system known as Tinkhundla.
The Observer reported Dlamini said they were seeking ‘information’ from those questioned. It quoted him saying, ‘We’re taking action on information that is not criminal per se.’
He said police raids on homesteads were routine in Swaziland. The Observer reported, ‘He said had it been through their choice, they would conduct the raids on a daily basis because that is what assists decrease crime throughout the country.’
He denied that only political activists were raided but there have been no reports of any people not connected with the prodemocracy movement being taken in for questioning.
The raids were reported by media across the world. Reuters reported, ‘Police Commissioner William Dlamini told reporters the police had “invited some individuals to assist us in our enquiries pertaining to state security information”’.
The Swaziland United Democratic Front, one of the groups targeted, in a statement circulated on social media said, ‘This comes weeks after the all progressive formations in the country resolved to unite under the banner of the Political Party Assembly to fight against the Tinkhundla regime. This led to the start of a campaign that was dubbed #MSWATI MUST FALL and has since been gaining momentum and meeting equal resistance from the autocratic regime.’
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre in a statement said, ‘We are concerned by the actions of the police, which appear to be targeted at those activists who have been prominently involved in protests relating to workers’ rights and who have been promoting multi-party democracy and government accountability in the country.’
It added, ‘We call on the government to respect its citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and to end the harassment of the leadership of political parties and trade unions. We further call on the government to release all persons who are currently in custody because of their criticism of the monarchy, including Goodwill Sibiya, who has been detained since May 2019.’
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