Sunday, November 15, 2020

Swaziland Govt. withdraws controversial Computer Crime Bill, seeks more discussion

A Bill that set out to impose 10 years’ jail time on people publishing ‘fake news’ has been withdrawn by the Swaziland (eSwatini) Government after protests in the House of Assembly.


The Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill, 2020 introduced a wide range of offences including spamming and cyberstalking. Cyberstalking included making false accusations, defamation and identity theft. 


The most controversial section of the Bill set out to make it unlawful for any person to publish any statement or fake news through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person or group of persons. On conviction a person would be liable to a fine not exceeding E10 million (US$600,000) or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or both.


The House of Assembly Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology Portfolio Committee rejected the section on ‘fake news’ at a meeting last week and days later committee chair Macford Sibandze told the House the Bill would be taken back for further consultations.


Among criticisms made were the large fines and lengthy prison sentences that would be imposed.


King Mswati who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch has been widely criticised by human rights groups. He controls much of the mainstream media in Swaziland. Nearly all broadcasting is state-controlled and one of the only two daily newspapers in the kingdom is in effect owned by the King. Formal censorship and self-censorship by journalists when reporting matters about the King is almost total.


In recent years news websites that call for human rights reforms in Swaziland have been launched. The editors of two of them are in exile in neighbouring South Africa after publishing articles deemed critical of the King. They face sedition charges if they return to Swaziland. There are also a number of Facebook sites and other social media platforms that carry material critical of the King.


See also


Swaziland rethinks law on ‘fake news’ that could lead to 10 years’ jail time


Swaziland proposes law with 10 year jail term for publishing ‘fake news’

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