In an unprecedented move King Mswati III, the absolute ruler of Swaziland (eSwatini), and his government are taking a Swazi newspaper to court in South Africa to stop it publishing articles critical of the king.
They have filed at the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court an application to compel the Swaziland News, an online newspaper, and its editor Zweli Martin Dlamini, to give at least seven days’ notice before publishing any article which is ‘defamatory and or critical’ of the king and or the Government, Ministers or any member of the Swazi Royal Family.
The king also wants the editor to send any written story and or content to the Government official spokesperson and his deputy before publication and give them seven days to ‘read the whole story so they can comment accordingly’.
Avulekha Amazulu (Pty) Ltd, the company that provides the website is also included in the application.
The application is being opposed.
Swaziland is not a democracy and press freedom is severely restricted. Comments critical of the king are not permitted and most media houses and journalists self-censor rather than face harassment and legal problems.
The Swaziland Solidarity Network, a pro-democracy group banned in Swaziland under the Suppression of Terrorism Act, said in a statement, ‘Since its registration in the Republic [of South Africa] the newspaper has flourished. Far away from the Royal censorship in the kingdom, it is able to publish eye opening stories of how the king and his family are abusing their political power.
‘When they are not spending excessive amounts of the country’s meagre resources, they are illegally evicting poor sugar cane farmers from their only source of livelihood. These stories contradict the image of king Mswati as a “God king”. At best they portray him as an evil hearted greedy king not deserving of the reins of power. At worst he is the devil himself.’
The Swaziland News editor, Zweli Martin Dlamini, has been a constant thorn in the King’s side. In April 2020 he wrote and published reports that King Mswati had tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) and had been taken to hospital with breathing problems. This was denied by the Palace at the time, but proved to be correct.
Dlamini had reportedly fled to neighbouring South Africa in March 2020 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 2017. He had received death threats from a local businessman before his newspaper Swaziland Shopping was shut down by the Swazi government when the newspaper’s registration under the Books and Newspapers Act 1963 was declined by the Swazi Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology.
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