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Monday, 23 March 2015

UK CONCERN OVER JAILED JOURNALISTS

The United Kingdom Government has expressed its concern that two journalists are in prison in Swaziland for writing and publishing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary.

It is also unhappy that Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and Maxwell Dlamini, from the Swaziland Youth Congress, were also arrested in May 2014 for allegedly seditious comments contravening controversial terrorism legislation and remain in prison awaiting trial.

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office in its 2014 Human Rights and Democracy Report on Swaziland, recently published, said, ‘According to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, political participation in Swaziland is amongst the worst in Africa. Swaziland ranks 50 out of 52 countries on this indicator for 2014. 

‘This year [2014] saw a number of worrying developments that further constrained the ability of people to engage in politics, in particular to exercise their rights of freedom of expression and assembly. Swaziland dropped to 156 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. 

‘High-profile examples included the sentencing of journalist Bheki Makhubu and lawyer Thulani Maseko to two years in prison after writing an article criticising Swaziland’s judiciary. Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and Maxwell Dlamini, from the Swaziland Youth Congress, were also arrested in May for allegedly seditious comments contravening controversial terrorism legislation. 

‘The UK raised concerns about these cases, and the broader human rights environment, with the Swazi authorities throughout 2014, including alongside other EU [European Union] member states at the EU-Swaziland “Political Dialogue” on 3 October. We remain concerned that there has been no progress on these cases.

‘At the end of 2014, the US withdrew preferential access to the US market for Swazi exports, having placed five conditions, relating to freedom of expression and assembly. An amendment to the Industrial Relations Act in November had addressed two of these conditions, permitting the registration of federations such as the Trade Union Federation, but did not address other areas. Failure to take the necessary steps threatens an estimated 13,000 jobs in Swaziland’s textile industry, damaging an already vulnerable economy.

‘More broadly, there are long-running, institutionalised constraints on political participation. 

‘We continue to be concerned that the Tinkhundlha electoral system was used in the 2013 elections. It allows only individuals (not political parties) to participate, and is widely seen as failing to meet international standards. The concentration of power around the monarchy also limits political participation.’

In Swaziland, King Mswati III, rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and all groups advocating multi-party democracy have been banned as terrorist groups under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The UK report continued, ‘The King has a direct say in the composition of the judiciary, parliament and government, as well as the succession of traditional chiefs who wield considerable power at a local level. Parallel customary and judicial court structures cloud accountability and access to justice. 

‘Political space for civil society is restricted, and its capacity to hold the government to account is limited. Gender inequalities also act as barriers to entry for women in the political sphere. Women face unequal social, economic, legal, political and cultural treatment. Some laws still treat women as minors and second-class citizens, despite the 2005 Constitution’s Bill of Rights declaring that women should be free from any form of discrimination or abuse. Legislation to help make this a reality continues to be delayed.

‘Alongside the resident EU and US missions to Swaziland and other international partners, the UK has consistently urged the Swazi government to implement democratic reform and to open up political space. The UK contributes to EU programmes to raise the capacity of civil society and promote advocacy at a grassroots level to encourage greater political engagement. 

‘The UK will continue to pursue this agenda in 2015, including working with the Southern African Development Community and the Commonwealth through its Special Envoy to Swaziland, former Malawian President Bakili Muluzi.’

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