Eugene Dube, the Swaziland journalist who was forced to flee the after he published articles critical of absolute monarch King Mswati III, has been honoured by a global media freedom group.
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) named him one of 30 coronavirus ‘information heroes’ who it described as ‘whistleblowers and media outlets whose courage, perseverance or capacity to innovate has helped to circulate reliable and vital information during the Covid-19 pandemic.’
Explaining its decision RWB said, ‘After Covid-19 reached eSwatini (the former Swaziland), the authorities warned journalists that criticism of King Mswati would be treated as “high treason,” which is punishable by death. When Swati Newsweek website editor Eugene Dube nonetheless published an article criticizing the kingdom’s handling of the health crisis, the authorities raided his home and subjected him to such a lengthy, heavy-handed interrogation that he fled to neighbouring South Africa.’
Dube told how he was forced to hide out in a forest for five days as he tried to escape over the border into South Africa. He is now in hiding there.
In May 2020, writing on Swati Newsweek he said, ‘‘The Swaziland police turned my home into a war zone, fighting a journalist armed with only a pen. They came four times armed with guns within a month. I had to sleep in a forest after I was assaulted by police during their first arrival. This was during their allegedly “lawful raid”. I was subjected to extreme harassment; hence fleeing was the only remedy.
‘I had no food, no shelter in the forest where I was hiding. I had to sleep in the forest in fear of police’s continued torture and arrest. Cops were coming to my home every now and then. If I had committed a crime, they were free to charge me instead of harassment.’
Dube said Police Superintendent Clement Sihlongonyane based in Mbabane Police Headquarters told him ‘When we come back to you Eugene, we will leave you reeling in a pool of blood. Stop criticizing the king.’
Dube spent more than five days hiding in the forest. ‘The first two days I had a loaf of bread. I was alerted that police were in my home while I had gone to buy bread. Hence I ended up with the loaf of bread in hiding in the forest.’ He later managed to get more bread.
Police have already charged Ncamiso Ngcamphalala, the Economic Freedom Fighters of Swaziland President, with treason after he was quoted in a report on Swati Newsweek saying, ‘We want government to change people’s lives, the Swazi Monarchy must know its place. We respect the King, but respect is earned and when pushed into a corner; we will be forced to retaliate. We unapologetically stand for multi-party democracy.’
Ngcamphalala is out on bail awaiting trial.
Swaziland journalist critical of King flees, hides in forest five days
‘No media freedom’ in Swaziland, Reporters Without Borders annual report states