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 Minister Barnabas 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