Swaziland (eSwatini) is to ban the production and distribution of alcohol as the partial lockdown of the kingdom due to coronavirus is extended for a further three weeks.
Prime Minster Ambrose Dlamini also threatened people who had been speculating that King Mswati III, the absolute monarch, was himself sick with coronavirus (COVID-19). He said they would be dealt with ‘in line with the law’.
A new offence of spreading rumours or ‘unauthentic information’ about coronavirus introduced in March carries a fine of E20,000 or up to five years imprisonment.
The Prime Minister was speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday (15 April 2020). A partial lockdown had been in place for 20 days. Schools, colleges and universities have been closed indefinitely. Many businesses have been halted and severe travel bans are in place. Gatherings of more than 20 people are not allowed.
To date there are no reported deaths from coronavirus in Swaziland. According to the Swazi Ministry of Health there have been only 16 reported positive cases of coronavirus in the kingdom since the pandemic started in December 2019.
The Prime Minister said he had been instructed by King Mswati to extend the lockdown. ‘His Majesty has commanded that this should be a relaxed partial lockdown, allowing low risk non-essential business to operate under strict hygiene conditions. This will ensure that we balance the health interests and economic stability of the Kingdom,’ he said.
The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade would announce more details of this, he said.
The Prime Minister also announced ‘production and distribution of alcohol is prohibited for the duration of this partial lockdown as it is considered high risk’. He made no further comment on this.
The Prime Minister made reference to reports on social media and in international media that King Mswati was himself ‘critically ill’ with coronavirus. The King has not been seen in public since the lockdown began, nor has he appeared on television to encourage his nation, as many other heads of state have.
The Prime Minister said, ‘His Majesty is well and healthy. Those misleading the nation about his health will be dealt with in line with the law.’
This will be seen as a veiled reference to Zweli Martin Dlamini, the editor of the Swaziland News, an online newspaper, who has been vigorously reporting the king’s absence. The eSwatini Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the king, reported on Saturday that police were searching for him.
On Good Friday police raided Dlamini’s home but he was not there. Police reportedly harassed his wife and two small children. The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), a pro-democracy group banned in Swaziland, reported, ‘Dlamini was first subjected to police torture two months ago and told to stop reporting about the king and the royal family. The editor has now been declared a wanted person by the police.’
In March 2020, Dlamini told SABC, [South African TV] that police tortured him for writing articles about King Mswati.
Assault on human rights follows coronavirus lockdown in Swaziland
More reports of police and army violence against civilians as Swaziland coronavirus lockdown continues
Newspaper editor flees Swaziland for second time after arrest and police torture