Swaziland: State's heavy-handed suppression of civic space

Association

The digital education publication Inside Education reported that police had arrested nine student activists in September 2017, following their participation in a student-led protest organised by the Swaziland National Union of Students. The students were, according to the report, released on warning after securing legal counsel. According to information received by the Monitor, the students were accused of acts of vandalism and looting. The students were subsequently charged and appeared at Malkerns Magistrate’s Circuit Court. Their trial is still pending.

On 8th September, human rights blog Swazi Media Commentary reported that police obstructed a pro-democracy meeting in Mbabane, the capital, with about 100 people in attendance. Police prevented the meeting from taking place, claiming that it had not been authorised. 

Peaceful Assembly

From June to December 2017, a number of protests over various issues took place in Swaziland. Examples of protests include the following:

On 15th June, approximately 1,500 teachers peacefully protesting over salaries were met with police resistance when they attempted to deliver a petition to the Prime Minister's office. A police officer reportedly began to beat the teachers with his baton, according to the Times of Swaziland

In November, electricity workers went on strike over two years of unpaid bonuses. The strike led to power outages throughout the country. 

According to the Africa Times, in September police forcefully removed students protesting over unpaid stipends and other grievances. The protests had allegedly turned violent at the Swaziland College of Technology, with some reports of vandalism and looting. 

On 8th September, thousands of protesters mobilised in Mbabane to demand democratic and socioeconomic reforms. The organisers included main opposition party Swaziland United Democratic Front and the protesters delivered a petition with seven demands to the government.

On 7th September, the University of Swaziland was closed after police and student protesters clashed. The students were boycotting their classes over several issues, including poor food quality and accommodations as well as unpaid stipends. Students reportedly threw stones, while police used batons against protesters. 

Expression

The editor of the newspaper Swaziland Shopping, Zweli Martin Dlamini, reportedly left to South Africa in early January 2018 after receiving death threats. The threats started after Dlamini published an article on King Mswati III's suspect business dealings in the telecommunications industry. 

On 15th December 2017, Swazi Media Commentary reported that the government had denied Swaziland Shopping its license and registration, allegedly due to the newspaper not meeting certain legal requirements. As a result, the newspaper will not longer be able to operate and publish. Media are largely state-controlled in Swaziland and state censorship of media outlets represents a major barrier to press freedom. Media is not free to publish articles critical of the monarchy.

A professor from the University of Swaziland was cited by media in December 2017 after outlining the dire situation faced by journalists in the country at a workshop organised by World Vision. According to the professor, challenges faced by journalists include fear of persecution from the authorities when reporting on controversial or sensitive issues, such as corruption within the government.

According to Swazi Media Commentary, two Swazi TVjournalists' jobs were threatened for covering a protest march on 20th September 2017 by public servants over a zero percent increase in their salaries. The journalists reportedly did not lose their jobs but were given warnings.