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Thursday, 13 November 2014

ANTI-TERROR ACT IN SPOTLIGHT AGAIN

A trade union leader in Swaziland whose house was raided by 30 armed police officers has been charged with sedition after they allegedly found pamphlets from banned organisations.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), which is also banned in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and political parties are not allowed to contest elections, reported, that Sifiso Mabuza, the Deputy Secretary of Siteki Branch of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), appeared at Siteki Magistrates Court on Wednesday (12 November 2014) and was remanded back into custody until 24 November 2014.

The Swazi Observer newspaper, which is in effect owned by King Mswati, reported Mabuza was charged with contravening the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA).

The newspaper said Mabuza was charged with supporting the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), which it described as ‘terrorists groups’. The charge said Mabuza was in possession of 87 pamphlets of SWAYOCO, and 71 pamphlets of PUDEMO.

PUDEMO is one of a number of organizations that are making a legal challenge to the STA to have it declared unconstitutional. The case is expected to be heard in Swaziland High Court in December 2014.

In the past people have been charged under the STA for a number of alleged crimes, including carrying banners displaying the names of banned organisations, wearing berets or T-shirts with slogans written on them, and praising individuals who have stood up for democracy.

The STA was introduced in November 2008 following an attempted bombing of the Lozitha Bridge, near one of the King’s 13 palaces in September that year.  

Shortly after the STA came into force Amnesty International and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBA-HRI) called for its immediate repeal or amendment.

More recently in June 2014, the United States withdrew preferential trade rights from Swaziland because, among other things, it had not amended the STA.

In 2009, Amnesty and IBA-HRI said a number of provisions in this Act were ‘sweeping and imprecise’.

They said in a statement that the Swazi Government warned of heavy penalties for ‘associating’ with certain groups, which had been declared to be terrorist ‘entities’ under the law. They said this was ‘contributing to an atmosphere of uncertainty and of intimidation amongst a wide range of civil society organizations’.

The statement read, ‘Amnesty International and the IBA-HRI are gravely concerned that key provisions in this anti-terrorism law are inherently repressive, breach Swaziland’s obligations under international and regional human rights law and are already leading to the violation of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.’

The statement also said the offences under the STA were ‘defined with such over-breadth and imprecision that they place excessive restrictions on a wide range of human rights – such as freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly – without adhering to the requirements of demonstrable proportionality and necessity.’

See also

POLICE INTIMIDATION CONTINUES

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