Annual Report: Swaziland 2010

May 28, 2010

Annual Report: Swaziland 2010

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  • On 3 June, human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was arrested under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, allegedly for uttering words "with a subversive intention" at a public gathering. Following court appearances, he was remanded into custody at Sidwashini Maximum Security Prison. On 10 June, his lawyers obtained a High Court order to allow him confidential legal access and two days later he was released on bail. No trial date had been set by the end of the year.
  • In July, police arrested political activists Mphandlana Shongwe and Norman Xaba at a civil society gathering in Manzini, apparently for shouting slogans and wearing T-shirts associated with organizations proscribed as terrorist in 2008 under the STA. They were released on bail. No trial date had been set by the end of the year.
  • On 21 September, on the first day of the trial, the High Court acquitted Mario Masuku, President of the proscribed People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), of a charge brought against him under the STA. The court found that the state's evidence was either inadmissible or failed to prove the case.
  • The trial of the remanded South African national Amos Mbedzi on subversion and other charges in connection with the attempted bombing of a bridge in 2008 was postponed until March 2010.
  • Sixteen defendants charged in 2006 with treason in connection with bombing incidents were not brought to trial. They remained out of custody under conditional bail. The government had still not made public the report of an inquiry into their allegations of torture in pre-trial detention.

Freedom of association, expression and assembly

The sweeping and imprecise provisions of the STA and associated severe penalties continued to intimidate government critics. Civil society activists and government opponents reported increased incidents of harassment, searches and seizures of materials, and monitoring of electronic communications, telephone calls and meetings, some of which were disrupted by the police.

The media and journalists faced continuous pressure and some overt acts of intimidation. Police increasingly pressed journalists to name their sources and to refrain from publishing certain information which, under the STA, could associate them with the activities of organizations declared to be terrorist. The Times of Swaziland was pressured to stop publishing the weekly columns of a government critic, Mfomfo Nkhambule.

  • On 21 May, the Supreme Court ruled, in a case brought by trade unions and political organizations, that there was no conflict between the right of Swazi citizens to form and join political parties under Section 25 of the Constitution, and Section 79, which allows participation in elections only on the basis of "individual merit". A dissenting ruling, by Justice Thomas Masuku, had found that the substantive right to freedom of association protected under Section 25 was nullified by Section 79 and that this derogation could not be reasonably justified.

Torture and excessive use of force

Police and other security officials, including informal policing groups, continued to use excessive force against criminal suspects, political activists and unarmed demonstrators. Incidents of torture and other ill-treatment were also reported. The problem of impunity for such abuses remained unaddressed. Although the new Commissioner of Police, Isaac Magagula, stressed the need to respond to the public's concern about crime without resorting to "police brutality" and limited police use of lethal force to circumstances where the lives of police or others were at risk, victims of police abuses continued to have no access to an independent complaints investigation body.