Human Rights Watch in its review of 2017, just published, adds the independence of the judiciary is severely compromised and repressive laws continue to be used to target critics of the government and King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The report states, ‘In September, King Mswati told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that Swaziland is committed to peace and a decent life for all. He said his government grants every citizen an opportunity to voice their views in order to constructively contribute to the social, economic, cultural, and political development of the country. He failed to mention, however, the recently passed amendments to the Public Order Act, which allow critics of the King or the Swazi Government to be prosecuted, and upon conviction be fined E10,0000 (US$770), imprisoned for two years, or both for inciting “hatred or contempt” against cultural and traditional heritage.’
The amendments to the Public Order Act grant sweeping powers to the national commissioner of police to arbitrarily halt pro-democracy meetings and protests, and crush any criticism of the government.
Human Rights Watch states, ‘Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continued. The government took no action to revoke the King’s Proclamation of 1973, which prohibits formation and operations of political parties in the country. The police used the Urban Act, which requires protesters to give two weeks’ notice before a public protest, to stop protests and harass protesters.’
King Mswati is above the law, Human Rights Watch states. ‘The constitution provides for equality before the law, but also places the King above the law. A 2011 directive, which protects the King from any civil law suits, issued by then-Swaziland Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi after Swazi villagers claimed police had seized their cattle to add to the king’s herd, remained in force in 2017.
‘The Sedition and Subversive Activities Act also remained in force in 2017. The act restricts freedom of expression by 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 told Human Rights Watch that they practice self-censorship, especially with regards to reports involving the king, to avoid harassment by authorities.’
Earlier this month (January 2018), Freedom House in its own review of human rights in Swaziland during 2017 declared the kingdom to be ‘not free’. It said civil liberties had deteriorated in the past year. Freedom House reported, ‘Swaziland’s civil liberties rating declined from five to six due to increased government infringements on religious freedom and freedom of private discussion.’
SWAZILAND CIVIL LIBERTIES WORSEN
KING MISLEADS UN ON SWAZI FREEDOM
JAIL FOR DEFACING PICTURE OF KING