Swazi government continues to restrict protest and association rights
In February 2017, the Swaziland Senate once again blocked amendments to the country's notorious Suppression of Terrorism Act. The Act "bans organisations that advocate for democratic reform and imprisons dissenters" and has been used over the years to arrest and imprison human rights defenders, civic and political leaders, and journalists. The international community has often criticised this law as undemocratic and in violation of the right to freedom of association. The Senate first blocked amendments to the Act in 2016, and by keeping the provisions in the law as they are, the government can use it to "legally" restrict citizens' civil and political rights.
In March 2017, the head of the Swaziland Elections and Boundaries Commission, Gija Dlamini, declared that the ban on political parties will continue and there will be no contest in the 2018 parliamentary elections. Dlamini was quoted as saying, "It must be clear that for now, no organisation is allowed to contest the elections, but members of organisations are free to do so." Banning political parties prevents citizens' from exercising their right to freedom of association as they are unable to associate themselves with or belong to a party of their choosing.
— Swazi Media (@SwaziMedia) March 3, 2017
On 28 February 2017, the police blocked members of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) from marching to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. The demonstrators planned to present a petition on labour rights to the Minister. The police formed a wall to prevent the marchers from reaching the Ministry offices, arguing that this was done in the interest and safety of the Ministry officials.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Swaziland allocated the largest portion of its 2017 budget to security services, which includes increasing the capabilities of the police in crowd management. The Minister of Finance, Martin Dlamini, stated: "'An additional budget has been allocated to the Royal Swaziland Police to enhance the delivery of services in rural and urban areas and improve emergency response and crowd management services." This allocation of funds is more than allocations to other crucial ministries, such as health, and it also represents a sharp increase from the 2015 - 2016 budget for the police, revealing the government's intention to continue controlling citizens' right to organise and peacefully assemble.