Swaziland has once again been criticised for its poor record on human rights by an international organisation.
Human Rights Watch published its review of 2016 and stated, ‘Swaziland, ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III since 1986, continued to repress political dissent and disregard human rights and rule of law principles in 2016. Political parties remained banned, as they have been since 1973; the independence of the judiciary is severely compromised, and repressive laws continued to be used to target critics of the government and the king despite the 2005 Swaziland Constitution guaranteeing basic rights.’
Human Rights Watch is one of a number of international organisations, including Amnesty International and the United States State Department, that annually bring the shortcomings of Swaziland to the world’s attention.
Human Rights Watch reported, ‘Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continued in 2016. The government took no action to revoke the King’s Proclamation of 1973, which prohibits political parties in the country.
‘Police used the Urban Act, which requires protesters to give two weeks’ notice before a public protest, to stop protests and harass protesters. In February, police arrested Mcolisi Ngcamphalala and Mbongwa Dlamini, two leaders of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), when they participated in a protest action. Two days later, the police raided their homes.’
The report added, ‘Political activists faced trial under security legislation and charges of treason under common law. The Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2008 placed severe restrictions on civil society organizations, religious groups, and media. Under the legislation, a “terrorist act” includes a wide range of legitimate conduct such as criticism of the government. The legislation was used by state officials to target perceived opponents through abusive surveillance, and unlawful searches of homes and offices.’
The report continued, ‘The Sedition and Subversive Activities Act continued to restrict freedom of expression through criminalizing alleged seditious publications and use of alleged seditious words, such as those which “may excite disaffection” against the king. Published criticism of the ruling party is also banned. Many journalists practice self-censorship, especially with regards to reports involving the king, to avoid harassment by authorities.
‘On September 16, the High Court of Swaziland ruled that sections of the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Sedition and Subversive Act were unconstitutional and violated freedom of expression and association. The invalid provisions relate to the definition of the offences of sedition, subversion, and terrorism. Classification of organizations as terrorist, which the government had used to ban political parties like the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), was also ruled to be unconstitutional.’
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