Representatives of the undermentioned civil society organisations are shocked to hear about the brutal killing of Eswatini human rights defender Thulani Maseko. Such attacks and the ongoing violence against pro-democracy campaigners in Eswatini make the search for peace and full respect for human rights in Eswatini even more urgent.
Civil society organisations around the world are calling on the Eswatini authorities to allow an independent, impartial, and effective investigation into the brutal murder of Thulani Maseko.
The murder of Thulani Maseko, is the latest in a series of tragic events associated with pro-democracy protests in Eswatini and the brutal response of the government to peaceful calls for democratic reforms. They highlight the seriousness of the human rights situation in Eswatini and the magnitude of the work that needs to be done to address it. Thulani Maseko, a well-known human rights lawyer and activist for democracy in the country, was shot dead on Saturday 21 January 2023, in front of his family in his home south of Mbabane. He was killed a few hours after King Mswati warned those calling for democracy that his mercenaries would deal with them, he noted that "People should not shed tears and complain about mercenaries killing them."
It the time of his death, Thulani, headed the Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF) of political parties and civil society groups leading the campaign for democracy in the kingdom. The spokesman of the Forum said, "assassins shot him through the window while he was inside (the) house with his family". At the time of his death, as a human rights lawyer, Maseko was representing many human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists in Eswatini.
The activist had reportedly been receiving death threats for more than a year. As a human rights defender, he had been subjected to judicial persecution, threats harassment and detentions. He was convicted for contempt of court on 18 March 2014, along with journalist Bheki Makhubu, after criticising Eswatini's judicial system. Since May 2021, the human rights situation in Eswatini deteriorated and pro-democracy protesters called for democratic reforms. Thousands of Swazis took to the streets to demand basic human rights and good democratic governance, which are a challenge of non-service delivery by the current government. In response to protests, King Mswati III– the last absolute monarch in Africa issued a decree – banning citizens from sending petitions to parliamentarians to demand democratic reforms. The authorities used excessive force against protesters, detaining them, killing and injuring others, and hijacking and kidnapping activists. As a result, more than 80 people were reported killed, 200 plus injured, and over thousands of others arrested and detained. Currently, two Members of Parliament, Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, remain in detention for 16 months, without trial, while facing criminal charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act in relation to the protests.
Eswatini is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that measures the state of civic freedoms in all countries. Information from Eswatini show a continued practice of activists and human rights defenders being harassed, threatened, and intimidated for their real or perceived initiatives and support towards pro-democracy and good governance. Stakeholders remain concerned that citizens involved in political activism are subjected to harassment, reprisals, torture and even killed and that King Mswati, has thwarted calls for reform and suppressed political activism for years.
We strongly urge the Eswatini government to:
- Carry out impartial investigations into the brutal killing of Thulani Maseko and hold all those responsible accountable.
- Stop harassing activists and release all journalists and human rights defenders currently detained for their human rights activities.
- Create an enabling environment for human rights defenders and all citizens to be able to express, associate, and assemble without fear of intimidation and harassment.
- Ensure the safety and security of all Eswatini people, including human rights defenders, journalists and political activists and protect civic space.
- Immediately end the persecution of all activists, drop all charges against political prisoners including those awaiting trial or in jail for their perceived role in the May 2021 protests.
- Carry out independent investigations into the use of violence against peaceful protesters and prosecute security personnel who have used excessive force against demonstrators.
We call on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to:
- Use all the existing mechanisms and instruments to engage with King Mswati’s government and all stakeholders to urgently look for sustainable solution to the political crisis and pave way for democratic reforms.
- Demand accountability from Eswatini authorities for the gross violations of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force against protesters, and extra-judicial killings of activists.
- Call on the government of Eswatini to respects, protect, and fulfil human rights obligations in accordance with international and regional instruments.
The statement is endorsed by: