Labor unions in Swaziland called off a third day of protests after police harassment and arbitrary arrests caused them to fear for the lives of demonstrators. Police used excessive force to disperse protests including firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons into crowds.
On April 11, four key activists were arrested ahead of the announced protests. Those detained were officials from the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), the banned youth organization SWAYOCO and an organizer for the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF). They were released on April 13, and placed under unlawful house arrest.
Mary da Silva, a lawyer and coordinator of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, was arrested and seized while giving an interview to a journalist. “Some people were taken away in big trucks, and they were dumped way out in the bush where there is no transportation,” said Ms. da Silva. “Basically, what they are doing is kidnapping activists.”
Yesterday, armed members of the security forces entered the headquarters of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and conducted a search without a warrant. The president of SNAT, Sibongile Mazibuko, stated protests were cancelled for safety reasons due to teachers being beaten and arrested.
Political parties were banned in Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy in 1973. The situation has not improved under his son and current ruler, King Mswati III. King Mswati is one of the world’s wealthiest royals while two-thirds of Swazi citizens live on less than $1 a day. The political climate worsened when draconian anti-terror legislation was signed into law in 2008. It further threatened the rights already compromised under the Swaziland legal system and has led to arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment of detainees and the prosecution of human rights defenders.
The people of Swaziland have lived in fear for much too long. Tell the government of Swaziland that no one should be denied the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. Tell the government of Swaziland that everyone should be free from torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary arrest. Stand in solidarity with the people of Swaziland and take action now!