Swaziland: A call for the authorities to uphold fundamental freedoms

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MEDIA ADVISORY

Swaziland must end the persecution of human rights defenders and political activists and ensure accountability for human rights violations, Amnesty International, the South Africa Forum for International Solidarity (SAFIS) and Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) said today as they mark the annual Swaziland Global Week of Action.

Political and trade union activism is the target of repression in Swaziland and people and media who openly criticise the government of King Mswati III, or raise concerns about judicial independence, are persecuted.

“The continuing decline of respect for human rights in Swaziland is a serious concern not only for the country, but for the entire Southern African sub-region, and needs to be addressed urgently by the Swazi authorities,” Noel Kututwa, Deputy Director for Amnesty International in Southern Africa said.

“The recent sentencing of newspaper editor Bhekithemba Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko to two years imprisonment is a stark illustration of a draconian crackdown on free expression. Amnesty International considers these two men to be prisoners of conscience.”

The three organisations are calling on Swaziland to stop using the criminal justice system as a tool of repression against human rights defenders who are being persecuted with impunity in the country.

“We are alarmed at the recent blatant threats against human rights defenders in Swaziland. Recently two Swazi activists, human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze and veteran trade unionist Vincent Ncongwane, were publicly threatened with violence by Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini. The threat was made in apparent reprisal for their advocacy work in Washington during the recent US-Africa Summit,” said Sipho Theys, SAFIS Coordinator.

“Human rights defenders and political activists continue to be at risk of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture, as well as politically motivated charges. We cannot look the other way when our people are being subjected to untold suffering every day,” said Corlett Letlojane, Executive Director of HURISA.

As well as experiencing systematic violations of their human rights, the people of Swaziland face deplorable political, economic and social challenges. Respect for human rights is central to achieving sustainable economic development and regional integration.

Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders should call on the Swazi authorities to uphold their international human rights obligations and commitments and respect fundamental freedoms, including the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression. SADC should also press the government to remove legislative and practical restrictions on the rights to political participation.

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