CIVICUS expresses solidarity with embattled Swazi Civil Society
Johannesburg. 17 November 2010.The Swazi Trade Union Movement is undertaking Global Days of Action on 16 and 17 November to raise awareness and demand for human rights and justice for the people of Swaziland. CIVICUS extends its whole-hearted support to Swazi civil society in this endeavour and remains deeply concerned about the freedom of civil society in the country.
“Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy and the government’s tight control and frequent crackdowns on opposition parties and pro-democracy movements are unacceptable in today’s world,” said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS. “It is high time the government accepts the legitimate aspirations of the people of Swaziland to enjoy democratic rights.”
The space for civil society to freely express, associate and assemble remains constrained in Swaziland. Statements in the press on 19 October by Swazi Prime MinisterBarnabas Sibusiso Dlamini outlined his intentions to propose legislation to force columnists to request prior permission before publishing comments that criticise the government. The Prime Minister stated that columnists write pieces that are harmful to the image of the country and that they receive compensation from foreign sources with interests in Swaziland. The Prime Minister’s statement insinuates that newspaper pieces which are critical of the government will be censored before they are published.
Enactment of such a law will breach freedom of expression guarantees in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the country’s own Constitution. Moreover, it would repudiate the aims and objectives of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Commonwealth, of which Swaziland is a member.
“CIVICUS remains deeply concerned about the censorship of the press in Swaziland and the frequent government crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrations organised by civil society groups,” says David Kode, Policy Officer at CIVICUS. “The Swazi security forces have used the Suppression of Terrorism Act, enacted in November 2008, to justify the use of force and intimidation in suppressing dissent, including demonstrations.”
In September 2010, security forces disrupted pro-democracy demonstrations, detaining and releasing some activists without charge and deporting foreign human rights activists and trade unionists in the country to show solidarity with Swazi civil society. The government approved these actions, claiming that intimidation and torture are tools for government use to suppress opposition to the state and those acting on behalf of foreign forces.
CIVICUS urges the Swazi government to respect the rights of the people of Swaziland to express democratic dissent and demand the reform of authoritarian institutions.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) Project of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world. In 2009, CSW tracked threats to civil society in over 75 countries around the globe.
David Kode (david.kode@civicus,org, +27 73 775 8649), Policy Officer
Office Tel: +27 11 833 5959
Global rights group condemns violent repression of peaceful protests in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland)
- Global civil society alliance condemns ongoing violations of freedom of assembly
- At least two protesters shot, several injured in police attacks on marches
- Hundreds of thousands of workers staged three days of protests
- Violent police action against peaceful protests comes on eve of controversial elections
Global human rights groups have condemned the violent repression of peaceful protests in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) as part of a long-running pattern of fundamental rights violations in the southern African kingdom.
At least two protesters were shot on Wednesday and several reported injured after police attacked demonstrations by workers, who were protesting the autocracy of King Mswati III, ruler of sub-Saharan Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy, and calling for improved wages and better working conditions. The workers were among hundreds of thousands of others who responded to a call by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) to stage three days of peaceful protests, beginning on September 18, in the cities of Manzini, Mbabane, Siteki and Nhlangano.
The latest incidents in ongoing restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression have come just ahead of today’s highly controversial parliamentary elections. More than 500,000 registered voters are expected to cast ballots for representatives of the legislature – an institution under the firm control of the King. The elections will be held without the participation of political parties, which are banned in Swaziland.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, said the brutal police action against protesters violated constitutionally-protected rights to freedom of assembly and highlights the continued actions by the authorities to repress fundamental rights in Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy.
“Swazis are unable to participate in political processes and with the tight controls exerted by the authorities over the media, constitutionally-guaranteed peaceful protests remain the only means through which they can raise concerns about issues affecting them,” said David Kode, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Lead.
“By using violence against those who exercise this right, the authorities are revealing the true extent of the brutality of the regime,” Kode said.
The current wave of repression of protesters is the latest in a trend observed since the start of the year to curtail the only means available to citizens to inform the government about issues affecting them. On June 29 for example, the police used brute force to disperse protesting workers as they made their way to deliver a petition to the Deputy Prime Minister’s office, calling for an introduction of a minimum wage and an end to the abuse of small-scale sugarcane workers. Four protesters were injured and hospitalised and one was detained and released after a while.
On September 8, police used force to repress demonstrations led by nurses to express concerns over healthcare cuts and medicine shortages. The protesting healthcare workers were blocked as they tried to deliver a petition to government officials. Violence was also used against hundreds of trade union members demonstrating against the King’s misuse of the state pension fund.
King Mswati III unilaterally changed the country’s name from Swaziland to eSwatini in April, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain.
CIVICUS calls on the authorities to respect the rights of citizens to assemble peacefully and hold to account security forces who targeted peaceful protesters.
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