Seasoned watchers of Swaziland will know that King Mswati III was wide of the mark when he said there was no police brutality in his kingdom and people were free to associate: the facts prove the opposite.
King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and the police and security forces work hard to ensure that things stay that way, despite a growing pro-democracy movement in the kingdom. A national election will be held next month, but political parties are banned from taking part and any opposition to the poll has been suppressed by the police.
The king told Police Day celebrations in Matsapha on Friday (9 August 2013), ‘These days we are in the national elections process. I am grateful to know that the nation has participated without fear of the police. The nation will be meeting and discussing elections issues and campaigning, this is evidence that there is freedom of association in Swaziland and there is no police brutality. I declare that people are free to associate in the country.’
But the facts prove the opposite is the case.
Earlier this year, attempts by people to meet to discuss the forthcoming election and to question whether they were free and democratic were blocked by the police. Among gatherings broken up by the police were a prayer meeting in Manzini in March and a public meeting at a restaurant, also in Manzini in April.
Both these events were broken up by police acting without a court order or warrant.
Also in April, a public rally to discuss the election was broken up by police and its leaders charged with sedition.
Police brutality is commonplace in Swaziland, whether in breaking up pro-democracy gatherings or fighting crime. The Swazi media have reported numerous cases of people attacked in police stations and tortured to confess to crimes. Some people have been shot in cold blood by police.
The misbehaviour of police in Swaziland has attracted international attention.
In April 2013, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported that Swazi police and state security forces had shown ‘increasingly violent and abusive behaviour’ that was leading to the ‘militarization’ of the kingdom.
OSISA told the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia, ‘There are also reliable reports of a general militarization of the country through the deployment of the Swazi army, police and correctional services to clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country’s undemocratic elections.’
In the same month the US Embassy in Swaziland said it had ‘deep concern’ about the way police engaged in ‘acts of intimidation and fear’ against people seeking their political rights. It was reacting to the police blockade of a public meeting at a restaurant to discuss political freedom.
It said Swazi security forces had a duty to protect the rights of citizens to, ‘communicate ideas and information without interference’.
Exactly a year earlier in April 2012 the US Embassy in Swaziland said, ‘We urge the Swazi government to take the necessary steps to ensure the promotion and protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Swazi citizens as outlined in the Swazi constitution, including freedom of conscience, of expression, of peaceful assembly and association, and of movement.’
MORE POLICE TORTURE IN SWAZILAND
SWAZI STUDENT LEADER TORTURED
ARMED POLICE BLOCK PUBLIC MEETING
POLICE BREAK UP ELECTION MEETING