Wednesday, April 22, 2020

‘No media freedom’ in Swaziland, Reporters Without Borders annual report states

There is ‘no media freedom’ in Swaziland (eSwatini) according to the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index just published.

It described the kingdom as an ‘absolute monarchy that prevents journalists from working freely’.

In its annual review of  press freedom around the world, the group reported, ‘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. Far from being an independent protector of rights and freedoms, the judicial system is often used to undermine journalism. In 2019, for example, a court decision banned articles about the circumstances in which a new bank obtained a licence to operate in the kingdom. A ubiquitous obsession with secrecy makes it hard to access information and the state wields total control over the media.
‘The king’s speechwriter is the editor in chief of the country’s oldest and most popular newspaper. The only privately-owned TV channel belongs to the royal family and criticism of the authorities is severely punished thanks to the existence of dozens of draconian laws under which reporters can be prosecuted. 

‘Harassment, intimidation and physical violence against journalists are all common and result in almost constant self-censorship. In January 2018, an investigative journalist had to flee to South Africa after being threatened in connection with an article about the king’s alleged involvement in a corruption case. His newspaper was closed on the king’s orders. Several photojournalists were also attacked, including by police.’

King Mswati III rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch and freedoms speech, assembly and association are severely limited. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the king chooses the prime minister and government as well as top judges and civil servants.

Media freedom is severely limited and investigative journalists live with constant harassment. In the past month alone there have been a number of attacks on the Swaziland News, an online newspaper. Mfomfo Nkambule a comment writer reported in March 2020 that he had been tortured by police after he wrote articles critical of the king.

The editor of the Swaziland News Zweli Martin Dlamini fled to neighbouring South Africa in the same month for the second time. He said he had been arrested and tortured by Swazi police who accused him of sedition. 

Also, on 7 February 2020, The Swaziland News reported Dlamini was being harassed and receiving death threats from King Mswati’s first born daughter Princess Sikhanyiso, who is the Minister of Information Communication and Technology.

Dlamini had previously fled to South Africa in fear of his life in 2018. He had received death threats from a local businessman and his newspaper Swaziland Shopping was shut down by the Swazi government.

The Swaziland News is one of a number of websites and social media outlets using the internet to advocate for democratic reform in Swaziland. In January 2020 National Commissioner of Police William Dlamini said police would hunt down and arrest people who criticised King Mswati on social media. He made the announcement in a written statement published in media across Swaziland.

A report compiled by Swazi Media Commentary in May 2019 detailing attacks on journalists in Swaziland during the previous 12 months revealed they had been beaten by state forces and teachers as they tried to cover public events. Two were detained at the Qatar Embassy in Mbabane, the Swazi capital, when they went to question a diplomat. A government minister called for a journalist to be arrested for taking photographs of ministerial cars parked in a public place. A former newspaper editor was questioned by police about allegations he had interviewed members of banned political organisations back in 2011.

See also

Swaziland journalist ‘tortured by police after criticising absolute monarch in newspaper articles’

Newspaper editor flees Swaziland for second time after arrest and police torture
‘Attempt made to poison journalist critic of Swaziland’s absolute monarch,’ editor says

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