Amnesty International a href=”http:www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org%E2%80%A6AMNESTY-INT” target=”_blank”has renewed its criticisma of Swaziland for the ‘continued persecution of peaceful political opponents and critics’ by the King and his authorities.
The human rights organisation has called for the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act (SSA Act) to be scrapped or drastically rewritten.
It said the Swazi authorities were using the Acts, ‘to intimidate activists, further entrench political exclusion and to restrict the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Fourteen people are currently charged under these laws.’
King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. All political parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups that call for a move towards multi-party democracy are banned under the STA.
The King appoints the Prime Minister, Government Ministers and the kingdom’s judges.
In a public statement to draw attention to the ‘repression of fundamental freedoms’ in Swaziland, Amnesty said 14 people were currently charged in five separate trials.
‘Ten are charged under both laws, including Mario Masuku, Maxwell Dlamini, and Mlungisi Makhanya, the Secretary General of the opposition organization, PUDEMO, along with six other co-accused.
‘The authorities also initiated trial proceedings under the SSA Act against Thulani Maseko in September 2014, on sedition charge first raised against him in 2009.
‘All of the accused are out on bail, apart from Thulani Maseko, Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini.
‘The alleged offences include shouting slogans at a Workers’ Day rally, utterances made at funerals, possession of PUDEMO leaflets, wearing PUDEMO t-shirts while attending the trial of Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu, or calling for a boycott of the elections held in 2013.
‘The start of these trials have been postponed, pending the outcome of a constitutional challenge to the laws which will be heard in the High Court in September 2015.’
Amnesty said the SSA Act violated Swaziland’s human rights obligations. It placed the onus on the accused to prove that their alleged acts, utterances or documents published were not done with ‘seditious intention’.
The SSA Act also obliged courts to conduct proceedings in camera relating to an offence under the Act if so requested by the prosecution.
Amnesty also said the STA was incompatible with Swaziland’s human rights obligations because of, ‘The failure to restrict the definition of ‘terrorist act’ to the threatened or actual use of violence against civilians
‘The failure of the definition to meet the requirements of legality, that is, accessibility, precision, applicability to counter-terrorism alone, non-discrimination and non-retroactivity.’
It added offences were, ‘defined with such over-breadth and imprecision that they place excessive restrictions on a wide range of human rights, including the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression.’
Amnesty stated, ‘Amnesty International reiterates its call to the Swaziland government to repeal or immediately amend the STA, as well as the SSA Act, to withdraw criminal charges currently made under these laws, release all prisoners held solely for exercising their human rights peacefully and to stop abusing the criminal justice system to violate the rights of freedom of expression and association.’
Source : Swazi Media Commentary