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Wednesday, 20 August 2014


The Swaziland magazine editor Bheki Makhubu, jailed for two years for writing articles critical of Swazi judges, is to appeal against his sentence.

In the appeal papers lawyers for Makhubu say the High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane erred on several matters when convicting the editor of the Nation magazine.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa reported,  ‘Many local and international observers condemned the sentence of Makhubu and his co-accused Thulani Maseko, saying that the trial highlighted the crumbling state of free speech while raising more questions over the independence of the justice system.’

The Nation magazine and the Swaziland Independent Publishers (PTY) Ltd, which were also found guilty on two counts of contempt of court and sentenced to a fine of E50,000 (US$5,000) on each count, are also to appeal sentence. 

In his appeal statement Makhubu said the sentence had stifled ‘vibrant journalism’ in Swaziland. Broadcast media are almost entirely state-controlled and censorship is endemic

In his appeal, Makhubu said Judge Simelane’s sentence was ‘so harsh that it has the effect of discouraging critical and vibrant journalism in this country’.

In his judgement at the High Court, Judge Simelane had said, ‘No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did.  Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively. The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons.’ 

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The Swaziland Government will not let up on its control of state radio, Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Dumisani Ndlangamandla said.

He said state media, which includes television and radio, existed primarily to serve the interests of the state.

This would mean that the strict censorship that existed in Swaziland would continue.

Ndlangamandla was speaking in the Swazi parliament in response to questions from MPs about the future control of media in the kingdom which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are not allowed to stand in elections and most are banned outright. The King appoints the Prime Minister, who also serves as editor-in-chief of state media.

Some MPs wanted to remove Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS) and Swazi TV from government control.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported Manzini North MP Jan Sithole saying radio and TV, ‘only cover news which the State wants covered and they are not open to the public as they should, yet they are run with taxpayers’ money’.

The newspaper reported, ‘The MP also raised concern about the silent censorship of politicians by the State media, since no MP is ever interviewed or shown on TV.’

The Times reported, ‘Matsanjeni MP Phila Buthelezi said SBIS Radio, for instance, was not primarily for its listeners. 

‘He clarified that it was disappointing that news which one would expect a national radio station to run is not broadcast by the station. Buthelezi wondered how the editing of news went on in the station.’

The Times added, ‘Meanwhile, the minister was unambiguous in saying that State mediums cannot be delinked from the State because it would be detrimental to the country.’

Censorship of radio and television in Swaziland is not new. In August 2012 the government announced that in advance of the national election in September 2013 radio would be banned from broadcasting news and information that did not support the government’s own agenda.

All radio in the kingdom, except one Christian station that does not broadcast news, is state-controlled.

New guidelines also barred ‘public service announcements’ unless they were ‘in line with government policy’ or had been authorised ‘by the chiefs through the regional administrators’ or deputy prime minister’s office’.

The guidelines said the radio stations could not be ‘used for purposes of campaigning by individuals or groups, or to advance an agenda for political, financial popularity gains for individuals or groups’. 

Media in Swaziland are severely censored. There are only two TV stations in the kingdom, the state-controlled Swazi TV and the independent Channel S, which has a publicly-stated policy of supporting King Mswati.

There is a long history of censorship on state broadcasting in Swaziland. Strikes and anti-government demonstrations are usually ignored by broadcasters. Sometimes live radio programmes are censored on air. In July 2011, the plug was pulled on a phone-in programme when listeners started criticising the government for its handling of the economy. Percy Simelane, who was then the boss of SBIS, and went on to become the government’s official spokesperson, personally stormed the radio studio and cut the programme.  

In April 2011, Welile Dlamini, a long-time news editor at SBIS, challenged the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini at an editors’ forum meeting on why the state radio station was told by the government what and what not to broadcast. Welile Dlamini said that at the station they were instructed to spike certain stories such as those about demonstrations by progressives and strike action by workers. The PM responded by saying editors should resign if they were not happy with the editorial policies they are expected to work with.  

In March 2011, SBIS stopped broadcasting the BBC World Service Focus on Africa programme after it carried reports critical of King Mswati III. In the same month, SBIS failed to cover the march by nurses that forced the Swazi Government into paying them overdue allowances. 

In 2010, Swazi police told SBIS it must stop allowing people to broadcast information about future meetings unless the police had given permission. Jerome Dlamini, Deputy Director of the SBIS said this was to stop the radio station airing an announcement for a meeting that was prohibited. 

He said, ‘It’s the station’s policy not to make announcements without police permission.’ 

In 2006, the minister for public service and information, Themba Msibi, warned the Swazi broadcasters against criticising the king.

MISA reported at the time, ‘The minister’s threats followed a live radio programme of news and current affairs in which a human rights lawyer criticised the king’s sweeping constitutional powers.’

Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, had been asked to comment on a visit by an African Union (AU) human rights team which was on a fact-finding mission to Swaziland.

‘In response, Maseko said that, as human rights activists, they had concerns about the king’s sweeping constitutional powers and the fact that he the king was wrongfully placed above the Constitution. He said they were going to bring this and other human rights violations to the attention of the AU delegation. 

‘Not pleased with the broadcast, the government was quick to respond. Msibi spoke on air the following day to sternly warn the media against criticising the king. He said the media should exercise respect and avoid issues that seek to question the king or his powers. 

‘The minister said his message was not directed only to radio but to all media, both private and government-owned. He said that in government they had noticed that there was growing trend in the media to criticise the king when he should be above criticism and public scrutiny,’ MISA reported.

Maseko, a long-time campaigner for human rights, was jailed for two years along with Nation Magazine editor Bheki Makhubu in July 2014 for writing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

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Friday, 15 August 2014


King Mswati III is misleading his subjects and the world at large when he says he does not know why the United States is withdrawing a preferential trading status from his kingdom.

The United States decided that Swaziland could no longer receive trading benefits under the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). The decision was made in June 2014 after Swaziland failed to meet the United States’ requirements on human rights issues.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and political parties are banned from contesting elections with many outlawed under anti-terrorism legislation. The King handpicks the Prime Minister, government ministers and the judiciary.

King Mswati returned from the United States Africa summit in Washington this week and told media in Swaziland that he did not know why the United States withdrew the preferential trading status. The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect own by the King, reported him saying the United States did not make it clear why Swaziland lost its eligibility.

However, the reasoning was widely reported at the time, including by newspapers in Swaziland. The US withdrew Swaziland’s AGOA privileges after the kingdom ignored an ultimatum to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.

The US Trade Representative Michael Froman, said, ‘The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly. 

‘We have made our concerns very clear to Swaziland over the last several years and we engaged extensively on concrete steps that Swaziland could take to address the concerns.’

Since the announcement of the withdrawal, which starts on 1 January 2015, the United States has continued to criticise Swaziland’s poor human rights issues. 

Last week, the United States criticised Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini after he called for two workers’ leaders to be ‘strangled’ after they criticised his government’s human rights record. It called the comment ‘threatening’.

In a statement the United States Department of State  said, ‘Such remarks have a chilling effect on labor and civil rights in the Kingdom of Swaziland.’

It added, ‘The United States continues to support and defend fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association, and the human rights defenders who fight for these values each day. We call upon the Government to renounce the Prime Minister’s remarks and to ensure respect for the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens.’

Last month (July 2014) the US State Department criticised the jailing for two years of magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko after they wrote articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

In a statement the State Department said,  ‘Their convictions for contempt of court for publishing an article critical of the High Court of Swaziland and their ongoing prolonged detention appear to undermine respect for Swaziland’s human rights obligations, particularly the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Swaziland’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States strongly supports the universal fundamental freedom of expression and is deeply concerned by the actions of the Swazi Government.’

The US regularly draws attention to human rights failings in Swaziland. In a public statement in April 2013, the US Embassy in Swaziland said it had ‘deep concern’ about the way police engaged in ‘acts of intimidation and fear’ against people seeking their political rights.

The statement came after armed police, acting without a court order, barricaded a restaurant in Manzini to stop people attending a public meeting to discuss the national election in Swaziland.
The US embassy said it had deep concern about the manner in which representatives of political organisations and lawyers for human rights were treated by police.

The police blockade of the restaurant took place on 12 April 2013 and was intended to mark the 40th anniversary of the Royal Decree in 1973 by King Sobhuza II that tore up the constitution and allowed the king to introduce any law he wished and to change existing ones.

The decree has never been rescinded and his son, Mswati III today rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch.

The US Embassy said it was, ‘[C]oncerned that a group of people were prevented from entering a restaurant, where they had planned to hold their meeting and were forcibly removed from the premises by police’.

The statement added that the 2005 Swaziland Constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

It further said Swazi security forces had a duty to protect the rights of citizens to, ‘communicate ideas and information without interference’.

This was not the first time the US Embassy in Swaziland has criticised the Swaziland ruling regime. A year earlier in April 2012 it said, ‘We urge the Swazi government to take the necessary steps to ensure the promotion and protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Swazi citizens as outlined in the Swazi constitution, including freedom of conscience, of expression, of peaceful assembly and association, and of movement.’

The statement went on, ‘The United States government is deeply concerned about increasing infringements on freedom of assembly, as evidenced by the recent actions taken by Swazi security forces to prevent peaceful citizens from gathering for a prayer meeting on Saturday, April 14 in Manzini as well as reports of those same forces preventing people from gathering in groups of more than two people in Manzini and Mbabane on April 11 and 12.’

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Thursday, 14 August 2014


Three Swazi political activists who were denied political asylum in South Africa are expected to leave the country on Friday (15 August 2014).

But, it is not clear if they will return to Swaziland, amid fears that they might be imprisoned by King Mswati III’s regime.

There is speculation that the three, all high-ranking members of the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS), might try to find asylum in another country. They are CPS General Secretary Kenneth Kunene, Goodwill Du Pont and Sithembiso Simelane. Du Pont is originally from Siteki, Simelane from Manzini and Kunene from Bhunya. 

The trio left for South Africa in 2005 when they faced arrest for engaging in political activism in the kingdom. Political parties are banned in Swaziland and many have been labelled ‘terrorist organisations’ by the Swazi state. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The fear for the activists’ safety in Swaziland heightened last week after the kingdom’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini called on two workers activists who spoke against the government while on a visit to the United States to be ‘strangled’ on their return home. 

Dlamini later withdrew his comment after he was condemned by the United States and human rights organisations across the world.

The three activists were reportedly told by South Africa that Swaziland was a democracy and they faced no threat if they returned to the kingdom when it revoked the political asylum permits that had allowed the three to remain in the republic.

In Swaziland democracy campaigners are routinely beaten and arrested by police. In May 2010 Sipho Jele was killed in custody by state forces. He had been arrested for wearing a T-shirt with the name of the banned political party PUDEMO written on it.

CPS National Organizing Secretary Njabulo Dlamini called for the unconditional and safe return of the exiled activists if they were forced to return to Swaziland.