Lawyers in Swaziland and an international human rights group have jointly called for judicial persecution, harassment and intimidation of members of civil society organisations in the kingdom to end.
In a submission to the United Nations they also call for restrictions on freedom of assembly to be lifted.
The calls come jointly from CIVICUS, a global network of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world, and Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland) (LHRS), a non-partisan group of lawyers that advocates for the respect of human rights and promotes good governance, the rule of law and democracy.
The report is to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland that is to investigate Swaziland’s record on human rights next April and May 2016.
The report listed a number of violations in Swaziland over recent years. The report said it was ‘a matter of deep concern that human rights activists have been arrested and persecuted for the work and others have been threatened by senior government officials including the Prime Minister.’
In a detailed account, the report said, ‘On 26 August 2014, Vincent Ncongwane, Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), was apprehended shortly before he was due to address a prayer meeting on the effects of the withdrawal of financial assistance through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) from Swaziland by the United States Government.
‘He had also planned to discuss the position of civil society regarding the withdrawal. The Matsapha area has many textile factories that will be affected by the cancellation of assistance through AGOA. Following his apprehension by the police, Vincent was forced to leave the venue of the meeting before delivering his address.
‘On 5 September 2013, Vincent was followed by police officers in civilian clothing and arrested while attempting to enter his office. He was whisked to the police station without any explanation or warrant and detained for several hours. He was later placed under house arrest and the authorities argued he had attempted to instigate an unlawful protest.
‘On 6 August 2014, Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini threatened human rights defenders Sipho Gumedze and Vincent Ncongwane while they participated in the civil society meeting on the promotion of democracy in Africa on the sidelines of the African leader’s summit hosted by US President Barack Obama in August 2014.
‘The activists had also participated in peaceful demonstrations aimed at highlighting threats to freedom of expression in Swaziland. While addressing the Parliament in Swaziland, the Prime Minister called for both activists to be interrogated and “strangled” when they return to Swaziland.
‘Sipho is a member of Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland) and Vincent is the Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).
‘On 1 May 2014, Mario Masuku, President of the pro-democracy People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and Maxwell Dlamini of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), were arrested after addressing a crowd of about 7,000 people during a Labour Day event in the capital, Manzini.
‘They were charged with singing a seditious song and uttering seditious statements under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. The state argued in court that their utterances were serious and threatened the leadership of Swaziland. They were denied bail on two occasions before they were released on bail on 14 July 2015 by the Supreme Court.’
The report said that the Swazi Constitution guaranteed ‘the rights of citizens to assemble freely,’ but these rights were being ignored.
The report said, ‘However we remain concerned that the authorities regularly suppress peaceful demonstrations, Persons considered leaders of such protests have been arrested and subjected to judicial persecution and some have been charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
‘In March 2015, security forces prevented members of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) from holding their national executive committee meeting at the premises of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT). In dispersing the participants, security forces harassed the Secretary of SNAT, Muzi Mhlanga after he took pictures of the police actions against protesters.
‘Again on 28 February 2015 security forces forcefully dispersed a meeting of TUCOSWA because the participants discussed multi-party democracy.
‘On 24 April 2014, Mlungisi Makhanya, Secretary General of PUDEMO and six others were arrested at the High Court in Mbabane as they demonstrated against the manner in which the trial of Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu was conducted.
‘They were charged for contravening the Suppression of Terrorism Act for wearing and being in possession of tee-shirts on which the word PUDEMO was inscribed.
‘The authorities noted that the tee-shirts reflected terrorist demands. They were also charged with chanting ‘terrorist slogans’ and for conspiring with others to commit seditious acts. In May 2014 they were all released on bail of E15,000 (approximatelyUS$1,106) and asked to pay E5,000 (approximately US$368) upfront and provide surety of E10,000 (approximately US$737).
‘On 5 September 2013, security forces in Swaziland arrested and detained Jay Naidoo, a South African trade union activist, Bishop Paul Verryn from the Methodist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa and Zimbabwean human rights lawyer and activist Alec Muchadehama ahead of a planned global inquiry scheduled for 6 September 2013.
‘Those arrested were part of an international panel of experts who had been requested by TUCOSWA and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to engage in a dialogue with workers about the effect of violations on labour rights on all Swazis. The panellists were followed from the airport and arrested at a roadblock on their way to Manzini. They were then transported to a police station where they were interrogated about the rationale for the planned meeting. They were later released after questioning and had to return to Johannesburg as the authorities closed the George Hotel in Manzini where the inquiry was scheduled to take place.’
‘On 12 April 2012, the police intercepted pro-democracy protests planned to be held at Coronation Park in Mbabane and arrested 15 organisers. The protests had been planned to coincide with King Sobhuza II’s 1973 Proclamation which outlawed political parties. The venue was filled with police and security offices who prevented protesters from entering. Protesters who were driving from other parts of the country were stopped at road blocks, prevented from entering Mbabane and sent back to their home towns.
‘The organisers of the protests had planned to use the day to call for democratic reforms, the organisation of multiparty election, for freedom of association to be respected and express concerns over the imposition of tax on basic goods.’
‘KING BLOCKS JUDGES’ INDEPENDENCE’
CALL TO END SWAZI MEDIA CENSORSHIP