Thursday, August 2, 2018

Report Says Swaziland Police Spying On Legal Protests

Police in Swaziland / Eswatini are video recording and keeping data of protest marches by political parties and labour federations. They then use the information to deprive people of college scholarships, jobs in the army, police, and correctional services or promotions in government departments, an online newspaper reported.

The protestors who are usually seeking democratic reforms or workers’ rights are seen as ‘a major threat to the state’. Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as one of the world’s last absolute monarchs. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and people campaigning for democracy are prosecuted under the Suppression of terrorism Act.

The Swaziland News reported (25 July 2018) the Police Intelligence Unit had been captured filming a protest march organised by the Trade Congress Union of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) in June 2018. It said this was a common practice.

The newspaper reported, ‘It is alleged that the information is further used to identify and subsequently conduct surveillance on protesters who are seen to be a major threat to the State.’ It added many people ‘believe the information is manipulated to victimize members of the various banned political movements’. 

It quoted Vusi Shongwe, President of the Swaziland People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) saying, ‘The recording of the TUCOSWA march proceedings by members of the regime’s forces although a standard practice in the policing fraternity, in Swaziland it seeks to serve two main objectives. To instil a cloud of fear and intimidation to the marchers. It is also used to single out the ringleaders when the videos are reviewed later.’

Mfanafuthi Tsela, Deputy President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) said the purpose of recording protesters was to intimidate and keep information about protesters with the intention of victimizing them. 

“The purpose is both intimidate and to keep information about protesters, in order to victimized them. It’s a thing that they have been doing for some time” he said.

The newspaper said the information was ‘used to deprive Swazis scholarships, jobs in the army, police, and Correctional Services or promotions in government departments’.

There is a long history of police and state security forces spying in Swaziland. In September 2017 police in Swaziland disguised themselves as news reporters at a march of public servants in Mbabane.

The Sunday Observer in Swaziland at the time called it ‘spying’ and said it had happened before at other public demonstrations, ‘They [police] are always plain clothed and carry traditional journalistic tools including cameras and notebooks,’ the newspaper reported.

It added police took video and still photographs of marchers. The newspaper speculated that these might be used to later track down and intimidate participants. The march was legal.

A police spokesman said they were not spying because the march took place in a public place.

In June 2017, some senior politicians in Swaziland reported fears their phones were being tapped. One also thought his car might be bugged.  

In July 2013 it was reported that police in Swaziland were spying on the kingdom’s members of parliament. One officer disguised in plain clothes was thrown out of a workshop for MPs and one MP reported his phone had been bugged. Ntondozi MP Peter Ngwenya told the House of Assembly at the time that MPs lived in fear because there was constant police presence, in particular from officers in the Intelligence Unit. 

The Times of Swaziland newspaper reported at the time that at the same sitting of the House Lobamba MP Majahodvwa Khumalo said his cellphone had been bugged ever since he started being ‘vocal against some people’. 

In May 2013, the Media Institute of Southern Africa reported that police spies had infiltrated journalism newsrooms in Swaziland, which had led to a heightened climate of fear. 

It is legal in certain circumstances to tap phones in Swaziland. The Suppression of Terrorism Act gives police the right to listen in on people’s conversations if they have the permission of the Attorney General.

When the Act came into law in 2008 Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini said that anyone who criticised the government could be considered a terrorist sympathiser.

In 2012, it came to light that the Swaziland Army had attempted to buy cameras and phone monitoring equipment worth US$1.25 million. The Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF) – the formal name of the Swaziland Army – was sued  in the Swaziland High Court because it ordered the equipment, but did not pay for it.

In 2011, a journalist working in Swaziland for the AFP international news agency reported on her blog that her phone calls were being listened in to. 

In August 2011, Wikileaks published a cable from the US Embassy in Swaziland that revealed the Swazi Government had tried to get MTN, the only mobile phone provider in the kingdom, to use its network for ‘surveillance on political dissidents’. 

Tebogo Mogapi, the MTN chief executive officer (CEO) in Swaziland, refused to comply and later did not have his work permit renewed and so had to leave the kingdom.

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