Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Only days after Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime Minister, told journalists there was freedom of the press in the kingdom, he has threatened they will be charged with sedition if they criticise King Mswati III’s recent speech to the Swazi parliament.

The ‘state of the kingdom’ address made last Friday (6 February 2009) received a lukewarm reception in some of the Swazi media. The Times Sunday reported former cabinet minister Mfomfo Nkhambule saying it was stale and lacking in substance.

Other critics said King Mswati failed to address key issues affecting the country, including HIV/AIDS and poverty.

Now, Dlamini has announced that anyone who publishes criticism of the speech will be dealt with under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act 1968.

In a perverse reading of the concept of freedom of speech, Dlamini said, ‘Government welcomes constructive comments of the speech – as the constitution guarantees freedom of expression. However, this does not give people the right to abuse this privilege. All rights come with certain responsibilities and limitations such as respect for others.’

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter in a statement said Dlamini believed, ‘any view on the King’s address should be presented in a language and manner that showed respect to the office of the monarch. He said the King had a reputation and enjoyed the protection of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act. The PM said his government will not hesitate to charge with Sedition anyone who further criticizes the King’s speech.’

MISA said the move was an attempt to silence the country’s citizens. It condemned the government threat ‘which has a potential to muzzle people’ and appealed for tolerance within the dictates of freedom of expression which is guaranteed in the kingdom’s constitution.

The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) said Dlamini’s threat ‘shows the extent of the fundamental disregard this government has for the constitution and the rights contained in it’.

It said freedom of expression was enshrined in the Swaziland Constitution. ‘Freedom of Expression includes the freedom to criticise government, government policies and government actions. The Speech from the Throne sets out those policies. Criticisms of the contents of the speech are a democratic right and a democratic duty. If the Prime Minister wants to take our rights away from us, let him try. He will find us robust in our defence.’

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