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Saturday, 7 May 2011

GLOBAL SPOTLIGHT ON SWAZI PROTEST

The Swaziland Government is coming under intense scrutiny from international bodies for its violent clampdown of the 12 April prodemocracy protest.


Swazi state police and army took to the streets to prevent trade unionists, students and others from marching to protest against the government’s handling of the economy and to call for political reform.


Last week a delegation of advocates from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Lawyers’ Association visited Swaziland visited the kingdom on a fact-finding mission to prepare a report for the next regional bloc meeting.


The Mail and Guardian, South Africa, reported that SADC has been heavily criticised for its silence on Swaziland and the mission was welcomed by activists in the country. Last week the International Labour Organisation (ILO) also went to Swaziland to meet the government. Mission head Vic van Vuuren said he raised concerns directly with the labour and justice ministers about allegations of heavy-handed policing during what was supposed to be an organised labour march.


Van Vuuren told the Mail and Guardian, ‘It's not totally clear exactly what happened on April 12 and 13 [2011] but we made it clear that, for one thing, union leaders should not have been detained on their way to take part in the march.’ He said the government had agreed to an ILO-hosted workshop to train the police in how to deal with labour protests.


Meanwhile, unionists are planning to take legal action against members of the Swazi Police Force over the way their colleagues were treated during the recent crackdown.


Thuli Makama, a lawyer and director of the Swaziland Legal Assistance Centre, said, ‘We’re speaking to the unions now to gather evidence, such as doctors’ reports, so that we can present our case.


‘The police really overstepped the mark; people were assaulted, man-handled, abducted and dumped in remote forest areas.’ Makama said that lawyers visiting clients in detention were made to sit on the floor and were aggressively searched. Some were considering taking civil action of their own.


Freedom House has also been in Swaziland, where delegates met separately with prodemocracy advocates and government.


During the protests of 12 and 13 April police fired tear gas and water canon and detained at least 100 people. Two youth activists Maxwell Dlamini and Musa Ngubeni have been remanded in custody since 13 April on explosive charges. Their bail hearing was adjourned yet again yesterday.


Last week, police staged a dawn raid on the home of Simon Mvubu, First Vice-president of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), and questioned him about his connections to a Facebook group promoting an uprising.

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