A former hotel supervisor told the Swaziland High Court police tortured her to try to make her confess to theft.
She said she was handcuffed, beaten, suffocated to near death, and threatened with hanging. She complained later to the local police commander but felt nothing was one about her complaint, so she went to court.
Phindile Mndzebele is claiming E750,000 (US$60,000) in damages from the Royal Eswatini [Swaziland] Police Service.
She told the High Court was she was the house-keeping manager at the Lugogo Sun hotel when a items and cash were reported stolen from a room. Police accused her of the theft and took her in a police vehicle to a forest up a mountain.
The Swazi Observer reported on Thursday (31 May 2018) that she denied being involved in the theft. Five officers were alleged to have forced her to sit on a grass mat and her hands were cuffed and she was suffocated three times. She was told the assault and suffocation would not stop until she soiled herself. One officer said she would hang if she did not give up the stolen items.
The ordeal ended when the police officers were called away to other duties.
The High Court was told doctors examined Mndzebele and found her muscles were swollen as a result of the assault on her back. She also had to attend daily counselling.
Reports of police torture are common in Swaziland. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a report on Swaziland published in May 2018 stated the Swazi State, ‘continues to be either actively involved in, or turn a blind eye to, torture’.
It added, ‘Reports of suspects dying in police custody, workers assaulted by state police, suspects shot and killed by the army, as well as suspected poachers tortured and killed by game rangers and private farm owners have come to characterize law enforcement in Swaziland.
‘Amnesty International reports that, in June 2015, a Mozambican national living in Swaziland, Luciano Reginaldo Zavale, died on the day he was arrested on allegations that he was in possession of a stolen laptop. In August 2015, independent forensic evidence indicated that he did not die of natural causes. An inquest was established to investigate the death, but its findings have never been made public.
‘In February 2016 at the Kwaluseni campus of the University of Swaziland, a student of the University, Ayanda Mkhabela, was run over by an armoured police vehicle during a student protest and left paralysed. The Commissioner of Police publicly announced that he would institute an investigation within the police service. As at the end of 2017, no public investigation had been undertaken into the incident. The Commissioner of Police had not made public the findings of the internal investigation.’
The ICJ said there was generally no independent mechanism for investigating abuses committed by the police.
It added, ‘The students involved in the protest have instituted legal proceedings in respect of damages. The Government is defending the action.’
The ICJ added, ‘Recent situations paint a gloomy picture about the treatment of persons in custody. A former Member of Parliament, Charles Myeza, has added credence to the serious allegations of torture at Bhalekane Correctional Facility, revealing in court papers that officers also treated him in an inhumane way. Myeza, who was serving a custodial sentence at the facility, alleged that he was stripped naked, smacked on the buttocks and had his genitals squeezed by officers, in furtherance of a common purpose to violate his right to dignity. The former Member of Parliament is currently suing the Government.’
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