Police in Swaziland have called in for questioning civic leaders who want to hold a public meeting about the state of democracy in the kingdom.
The police are acting without a court order or warrant. But, according to a local media report, the station commander who demanded their appearance said he was working on the orders of ‘superiors’.
The three leaders are Sam Mkhombe, a spokesperson for the pro-monarchy political party Sive Siyinqaba; Dr Alvit Dlamini, President of the conservative political party Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNCL); and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer working in Swaziland.
They were due to speak at a meeting today (12 April 2013) to mark the 40th anniversary of the state of emergency declared by King Sobhuza II in 1973 that turned Swaziland from a democracy to a kingdom ruled by an autocratic monarch.
The King’s 1973 decree banned political parties and allowed the monarch to make laws as he saw fit. The decree has not been properly rescinded since and the kingdom operates under a perpetual state of emergency.
The three men were ordered to appear at police headquarters at 9.00 hrs today local time (12 April 2013).
The three were due to speak at a public meeting this afternoon jointly organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC). The topic of the meeting was to be the significance of the 1973 Royal decree.
In publicity for the meeting the two organisations had said in a statement, ‘The decree criminalised political activity, saw the banning of political parties and the introduction of a system of governance benefitting a few elites and their cronies; all at the expense of the majority of Swazi’s who continue to languish in poverty, underdevelopment and perpetual neglect.’
The statement went on to say 12 April would be marked in Swaziland as ‘a black day in the history of our beloved country’.
It said Swaziland was now ‘paralysed by fear, docility, corruption [and] repression’.
The meeting, originally planned to take place at a restaurant in Mbabane, the Swazi capital, has been moved to a venue yet to be announced.
Police in Swaziland have increasingly taken it upon themselves to stop public gatherings that they consider to be unlawful. They operate without court orders or warrants.
In February this year a battalion of armed police invaded the Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral in Manzini and forced the congregation to vacate the church alleging that the service ‘intended to sabotage the country’s general elections’.
In March, heavily-armed police, supported by the Operational Support Services Unit prevented members of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) from holding a peaceful commemoration prayer in celebration of the federation’s anniversary.
Earlier this week, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) told the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia that Swaziland police and state security forces use ‘increasingly violent and abusive behaviour’ that is leading to the ‘militarization’ of the kingdom.
Things are so bad in the kingdom, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, that police are unable to accept that peaceful political and social dissent is a vital element of a healthy democratic process, and should not be viewed as a crime, OSISA said.
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