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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

NOW, PUDEMO SAYS IT WILL MEET KING

Swaziland’s best-known opposition group the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) will take part in talks with King Mswati III on Wednesday (30 September 2015), despite a report that its leaders had been banned from attending.

PUDEMO said in a statement it had always been ‘willing and available’ to meet both the King, who is an absolute monarch, and the government which the King personally appoints.

Swaziland is a secretive society and no official announcement has been made about the meeting which has been brokered by the Commonwealth.

A report on 25 September 2015 in the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, said that PUDEMO leaders Mario Masuku and Mphandlana Shongwe had been banned from taking part. It is believed that fifteen representatives of Swazi civil society will meet the King.

PUDEMO in a statement said it would attend the meeting, although it was not stated who would represent the organisation.

In its statement dated 27 September 2015, widely circulated on social media and later picked up by newspapers in Swaziland, PUDEMO said, ‘We fully support a genuine negotiation process and we are clear about the kind of dialogue that must take Swaziland forward. It must be a dialogue rooted in the full respect for certain preliminary conditions, which are key to a lasting and meaningful dialogue; there must be a total removal of all laws that militate against political freedoms and the rights to organise and associate with any political organisation. In particular the removal of the ban on political parties and Suppression of terrorism law is key to this process.

‘In front of his Majesty we will reiterate our core demands for a peaceful transition [from absolute monarchy to democracy]:

‘Immediately drop all political charges against the leadership of the movement;

‘Immediately unban of political parties so that our member parties can be part of the process;

Convening of an all-inclusive and genuine National Dialogue Forum to discuss the modalities towards the ultimate drafting of the country’s democratic constitution;


‘Creation of an environment conducive to effective genuine negotiations through the removal of all laws that militate against free political activity, the rights to organise and associate on the basis of political views and interests. In this regard, the removal of the Suppression of terrorism Act and other such laws remain a major condition;

‘Independent judiciary and media and end of state brutality through the police and the army;

‘Unconditional return of all exiles and the full and effective participation of all the people in the process leading towards the putting in place of a new and democratic system in the country;

‘A new constitution;

‘Multiparty elections with political parties registered , contesting and with full mandate to constitute government.

PUDEMO is one of a number of prodemocracy groups banned in Swaziland under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. In Swaziland political parties are not allowed to take part in elections.

See also

KING WON’T MEET DEMOCRACY LEADERS
PUDEMO ON DEMOCRACY TALKS WITH SWAZI KING
KING ‘TO MEET DEMOCRACY GROUPS’

CALL TO END SWAZI MEDIA CENSORSHIP

Lawyers in Swaziland and an international human rights group have jointly called for media freedom in the kingdom to be respected.

In a submission to the United Nations they also call for an end to media censorship in the kingdom.

They also call for more independent newspapers and media houses to be allowed to operate in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The call comes jointly from CIVICUS, a global network of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world, and Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland) (LHRS), a non-partisan group of lawyers that advocates for the respect of human rights and promotes good governance, the rule of law and democracy.

The report is to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland that is to investigate Swaziland’s record on human rights next April and May 2016.

The report listed a number of media freedom violations in Swaziland over recent years.

In the report they stated the Swazi Government, which is not elected but appointed by the King, ‘strictly controls freedom of expression and the media

They added, ‘Reporting on royal and political matters is severely restricted. Further, regular threats emanating from senior government officials and the royal family to journalists also lead to government censorship and self-censorship by the media further curtailing democratic freedoms.

The report detailed a number of media freedom violations.

It stated, ‘On 28 April 2014, Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi threatened the Managing Editor of the Swazi Observer, Mbongeni Mbingo over reports on court proceedings in the case involving the editor of Nation magazine Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko.  

In the 30 March 2014 edition of the newspaper, Mbongeni expressed concerns that Bheki and Thulani were in jail even though the prosecuting team had not concluded its investigations. The Chief Justice ordered Mbongeni to stop reporting on the case and warned that he would be subjected to the same fate as the accused. 

The Swazi Observer is owned by King Mswati’s business holding Tibiyo taka Ngwane but the newspaper had been reporting regularly on the case. After the threats from the Chief Justice the newspaper adopted a more cautious approach in its reporting on the case.

On 17 April 2013, Bheki Makhubu, editor of Nation magazine was found guilty of contempt of court for “scurrilous abuse of the Chief Justice” based on articles he wrote in November 2009 and February 2010 in which he criticised Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. 

One of the articles commended Justice Thomas Masuku for his views in cases which focused on the evictions of Swazis from lands held by the King in contrast to views held by two other Supreme Court Judges. The other article criticised Justice Ramodibedi over comments he had made. Bheki Makhubu was handed a fine of E200,000 (approximately US$14,750) and informed that he would serve a two year jail term if he failed to pay the fine within three days.

On 30 May 2014, he won an appeal with the Supreme Court and the sentence was reduced to three months fully suspended on condition that he is not convicted of any offence of scandalising the court for a period of three years.
 
On 17 and 18 March 2013 human rights defender Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu were arrested and charged with “scandalising the judiciary” and for being “in contempt of court” after they published articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.
 
In February 2014, Thulani wrote an article in the Nation magazine titled “where the law has no place” and in March 2014 Bheki wrote an article titled “speaking my mind”. Both articles were critical of the arrest of government vehicle inspector Bhantshana Vincent Gwebu. 

Thulani Maseko is a member of the Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland) and Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network. Bheki Makubu is a journalist and editor of Nation magazine. They were both sentenced to two years in jail on 25 July 2014 without bail. On 30 June 2015 the Supreme Court ordered the release of both journalists on the basis that they had not received a fair trial.

The Supreme Court argued that the trial judge was one of the persons criticised in the articles and had not recused himself from the case.

On 15 January 2014, the government-controlled Swazi Observer newspaper suspended its editor Thulani Thwala and weekend editor Alec Lushaba after they were accused of failing to adhere to the mandate of the newspaper by publishing negative news stories about the King.
 
The journalists were accused of failing to heed several warnings not to publish damaging reports about the King. Prior to the suspension, they published reports indicating that the Swazi government had solicited a financial bailout from South Africa. Eight months after their suspension, the Board of Directors of the Swazi Observer Newspaper Group reinstated them. 

The Swazi Observer newspaper is controlled by the Tibiyo Taka Ngwane conglomerate, which is owned by the King. News items published are highly censored.

In January 2012, Musa Ndlangamandla was relieved of his duties as Chief Editor of the Swazi Observer newspaper after publishing interviews in his Asikhulume column of leaders of pro-democracy movements in Swaziland.

Prior to that he had published a report about the expropriation of state land by Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini. The police confiscated his computer and in February he was forced to flee to South Africa after attempts by security forces to arrest and charge him under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
 
On 11 April 2012, Tumaole Mohlaoli and Meshack Dube, journalists from the private South African television channel e-TV, were detained by the Swazi authorities at a road block in Oshoek and their passports and equipment were seized after the authorities accused them of not having the proper accreditation to cover events commemorating the 39th anniversary of King Sobhuza II’s 1973 decree which outlawed political parties in Swaziland.’

CIVICUS and LHRS made the following recommendations to the UN working group.

The environment in which the media operates in Swaziland should be opened up to allow the registration and operation of more independent newspapers and media houses.

The government should stop using the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act and the Suppression of Terrorism Act to impede media freedoms.

Swazi authorities should respect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression and stop the practice of intimidating and persecuting journalists using unlawful legal processes.

Journalists and media representatives should be protected by the law at all times.

Public figures should stop threatening journalists and desist from interfering in state-owned newspapers.
Obsolete laws that restrict freedom of expression such as Sedition and Subversive Activities Act Suppression of Terrorism Act should be reviewed and repealed.

The Swazi authorities should stop censoring the contempt of newspapers and refrain from interfering in the editorial policies of newspapers to eliminate censorship.

See also

GOVT HAS TOTAL CONTROL OF TV NEWS
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2015/06/govt-has-total-control-of-tv-news.html

Monday, 28 September 2015

‘KING BLOCKS JUDGES’ INDEPENDENCE’


King Mswati III, the absolute monarch in Swaziland, stands in the way of the kingdom having independent judges, an international group of jurists has stated. 

In a submission to the United Nations, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) called for an overhaul of laws and regulations in Swaziland to take power away from the King.

A United Nations group is to investigate Swaziland’s record on human rights next April and May 2016.

Ahead of that investigation, the ICJ which is composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world has submitted a report in which it reviewed the state of the kingdom’s judiciary over the past few years.

The report to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland stated that King Mswati had too much influence in the appointment of judges.

The ICJ stated, ‘The judges’ appointment process continues to pose a threat to judicial independence and impartiality. The Constitution of Swaziland provides that the judges are appointed by the King after consultation with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). 

‘The King has the ultimate and final say in respect of the appointments to the bench. 

‘Moreover, the composition of the JSC and the appointment of its members undermine confidence in the independent discharge of its mandate, including the consultative role in the appointment of judges. The JSC is chaired by the Chief Justice, and in addition comprises two legal practitioners, the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission and two other persons. All of these individuals are appointed by the King.’

The ICJ added, ‘In addition, some recent judicial appointments have given rise to concern about the lack of qualification of those appointed. Certain appointments have been publicly questioned by Swaziland’s legal practitioners and by the Law Society. 

‘The appointment of contract judges, by the King upon request of the Chief Justice, also serves to undermine the security of tenure of judges, and it places the contract judges at risk of manipulation by the Crown and the judicial hierarchy.’

The ICJ called for an overhaul of the legal system in Swaziland. ‘The authorities of Swaziland must immediately review the laws and regulations pertaining to the JSC with a view to bringing them in line with regional and international law and standards, including by removing the Crown’s [the King’s] control over the JSC’s composition,’ it said.

It said this would allow for public, transparent and fair appointment and removal processes of judges, ‘including public announcement of any vacancies in the judiciary, and ensuring the full participation of all concerned stakeholders’.  

The ICJ also noted that King Mswati was personally immune from the law. It stated that in 2011, ‘the then Chief Justice Ramodibedi issued a Practice Directive ordering the non-registration of lawsuits that challenge the King “directly or indirectly”, effectively barring access to justice in any case against corporations, companies, trust or any entities in which the King owns shares or has an interest.’

In Swaziland, political parties are not allowed to contest elections, the King chooses the government and no members of the kingdom’s Senate are elected by the people. Groups that advocate for multi-party democracy have been banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

See also

JURISTS SLAM SWAZILAND OVER JAILINGS


Friday, 25 September 2015

KING WON'T MEET DEMOCRACY LEADERS

All the major figures in Swaziland’s pro-democracy movement have been excluded from so-called ‘democracy talks’ with King Mswati III on Wednesday (30 September 2015).

The Commonwealth had brokered talks between the King, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and groups wanting multi-party democracy in the kingdom.

At present political parties cannot take part in elections and groups advocating for democracy are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, where media are severely controlled, reported on Friday (25 September 2015) that the Peoples’ United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) President Mario Masuku; Second Vice Secretary General Mphandlana Shongwe; Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) Coordinator Wandile Dludlu; Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) President Quinton Dlamini and Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) Secretary General Maxwell Dlamini were among those who were excluded from the team of 15 to meet the King.

The newspaper reported, ‘This is despite the fact that the meeting was facilitated to give these well-known leaders of the political formations a platform to voice their concerns to the King. The idea of hosting such talks was conceived during meetings between the leaders of the political formations and Commonwealth Special Envoy to Swaziland, former Malawi President Dr Bakili Muluzi.’

The newspaper reported that the names of people taking part in the talks had been leaked.

The Times reported, ‘It was gathered that the seasoned and controversial activists have been ordered out of the team and replaced.’

It added, ‘This publication was made aware of the people who will meet the King, however, when most of the members of the team were called last night, they declined to comment, citing the tension within the team.’

See also

PUDEMO ON DEMOCRACY TALKS WITH SWAZI KING
KING ‘TO MEET DEMOCRACY GROUPS’

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

SWAZI KING’S JET DISPUTE BACK IN COURT

A court has ordered that King Mswati III of Swaziland cannot sell or dispose of his private jet until a dispute over his alleged failure to pay a US$3.5 million debt is resolved.

This is part of a long-running legal dispute between Shanmuga Rethenam, who owns a company called SG Air, and the King.

Rethenam, popularly known as Shan, has succeeded in getting a freezing order from the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). If the King fails to comply with the order he faces contempt of court charges and possible imprisonment.

SG Air claims that King Mswati owes it the money for repairs and modifications undertaken to his private McDonnell Douglas DC-9-87 aircraft in 2012. The case was heard in the Superior Court in Ontario, Canada, in June 2015, when the King won on a legal technicality.
 
However, pending possible appeals, King Mswati, through a company he owns called Inchatsavane, was forced to lodge a letter of credit for US$3.5 million with Canadian lawyers, in case he lost the appeal. The money was due to be released on 15 September 2015.

Since the Canadian court case, the Swazi Government announced it intended to try to lease out the aircraft, valued at about US$14.5 million, and in turn lease the King a larger, more luxurious jet, with the possibility of buying it at a later date.

The DC-9-87 is reportedly undergoing repairs in South Africa and one of its engines might be sent to the United Kingdom for further work. The BVI court freezing order applies to both South Africa and the UK.

The new freezing order means the King cannot dispose of the aircraft or its engines until the court case over the alleged debt is resolved.

The court order was made in the BVI because that is where SG Air is incorporated. It is impossible to take court action against King Mswati in Swaziland, because as the kingdom’s absolute monarch he is immune from the law.

See also

KING WINS JET CASE ON A TECHNICALITY
SWAZI KING NOT ABOVE LAW IN CANADA

PUDEMO ON TALKS WITH SWAZI KING

Absolute monarch in talks with banned political parties
Kenworthy News Media, September 22, 2015 

Swaziland has been an absolute monarchy for decades, but absolute monarch King Mswati III is being pressed by both the country’s democratic movement, the Commonwealth and the EU to discuss democratic reforms, writes Kenworthy News Media.

“At the moment the king regards us as people who want to destroy the country, but once we have talked with him he will know what the people want”, says president of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Mario Masuku. He is speaking of the possibility of a meeting, talks or even negotiations between Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, who has ruled Swaziland almost single-handedly for nearly 30 years, and the country’s Democratic Movement.

The prospect of any dialogue between PUDEMO, Swaziland’s arguably largest pro-democratic party or movement that, like all other parties in the country, is banned, and the absolute monarch who has banned them and who treats them as terrorists, has been brokered by the Commonwealth. The intergovernmental organization has previously criticized the rule of Mswati and recently sent a delegation to Swaziland to meet with Swazi civil society.

“The Commonwealth had said to the king that there are people who are not happy with the way the country is governed. The king wanted to know who and why and was told that it was members of civil society. The king then asked for a meeting that we believe may evolve towards a dialogue of sorts”, says Mario Masuku.

Conditions for dialogue
Regardless of how and when such a meeting takes place, PUDEMO has several demands if they are to attend.

“Every person attending must have a right to express themselves at such a meeting. The king must commit himself to the dialogue in the form of a declaration that cannot be renounced. All laws that hinder progress must be removed, including the Suppressions of Terrorism Act”, says Masuku, who is himself charged under the act for shouting “viva PUDEMO” on May Day 2014. He could face 15 years in prison if convicted.

Other conditions are that all political parties must be unbanned, intimidation of political activists and human rights defenders must stop, all political exiles must be allowed to return to Swaziland unconditionally, and the 1973 proclamation where the king’s father assumed supreme power in Swaziland must be annulled. “These are the main issues that need to be resolved for us to have a proper dialogue”, insists Mario Masuku.

Nevertheless, he is hopeful that if PUDEMO actually get to talk to the king and if there is a “climate of open doors” and a national dialogue, then progress can be made. But any progress will have to point towards and lead to multi-party democracy, he says, guided by a road map and time frame for a process towards democratic national elections in 2018.

“The end result must be free and fair national elections, starting with talks about talks behind closed doors. The outcome of these talks should be a national convention where all the organisations will make up a constituent assembly. This assembly will in turn give birth to an electoral committee, after which we will be able to hold free and fair elections”, says Masuku.

Talks and mobilisation go hand in hand
Dialogue, talks and negotiations are just one part of PUDEMO’s strategy and struggle for multiparty democracy in Swaziland, however, Mario Masuku says.


“Negotiations are part of our strategy towards this end goal. But we will not abandon our mass mobilisation, our empowerment of our members, or promoting our cause internationally. We understand that we will only be successful if we have some kind of leverage. The ANC’s leverage was the armed struggle, our leverage is the masses on the ground, not guns and bombs”, he says.

He also insists that ordinary Swazis will be a guiding force for PUDEMO if actual talks and negotiations, that include PUDEMO and the rest of the democratic movement in Swaziland, take place.

“The people on the ground will let us know if these talks are a waste of time. If we are not talking about how they will be represented in parliament and how we can help the poor, the talks will not be a success”, he insists.

Growing pressure on the king
So why has the prospect of dialogue, and potentially emerging from such a dialogue, talks and negotiations, come about now?


According to Mario Masuku, the reason is a combination between internal pressure and a growing pressure from outside Swaziland.

“There has been pressure from the ILO, especially in regard to amending the Suppression of Terrorism Act and other laws. There has been pressure from the EU, who are big trading partners, give substantial amounts of money to Swaziland, and who are not happy about the human rights situation in the country. And there has been pressure from the USA, who withdrew Swaziland’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act with all the benefits that went with it for Swaziland. The international pressure has helped and inside Swaziland there is noise too,” he says.

Masuku believes that this pressure has manifested itself in a pattern of progress recently that includes the unbanning of Swaziland’s trade union congress, TUCOSWA, the release of political prisoners Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu, the sacking of corrupt chief justice Michael Ramodibedi, and the release on bail of himself and youth activist Maxwell Dlamini.

But king Mswati does not seem willing to just hand over power of the country that he has ruled with absolute power for nearly three decades. A delegation from Swaziland is currently touring Europe to try and convince EU politicians to try and avert EU threats of sanctions against Swaziland if the country does not reform its political system, says Mario Masuku. And such a delegation might conceivably also try to twist the truth about the human rights and political situation in the country.

Land, health, education and climate
But should dialogue end up leading to talks, talks to negotiations, and negotiations to multiparty elections that PUDEMO end up winning, what is PUDEMO’s vision for a democratic Swaziland, what do they believe are the most pertinent and important issues to be solved?


“The first issue is that of land”, says Mario Masuku. “The majority of people in Swaziland live in the rural areas without the right to the land they live on and cultivate. They are evicted by chiefs doing the king’s bidding at will. People must own their own land”.

“Health is equally important. Many people in Swaziland suffer from curable diseases such as tuberculosis. In my area there is no clinic within a radius of 10 kilometres. You cannot live a life like this”, says Masuku.

Another important matter is that of education, he says.

“People can’t afford scholarships to university. And those who do manage to finish their degree find that there are no jobs for them. We need a plan for how many teachers and engineers we need, so that there are jobs for them when the finish their degrees, and we need free primary education”.

Finally, Mario Masuku mentions the environment as an important and all-encompassing issue that needs to be resolved by a future democratic government.

“There is little being done now on the environment. Before we start properly industrializing, we must ensure that we consider things such as biodiversity and global warming, as these matters are of the utmost importance for both us and future generations”, concludes Mario Masuku.

Negotiations will be a battlefield
Before PUDEMO are able to wield any parliamentary power, there almost certainly lies a long and difficult road of dialogue, talks and negotiations ahead of them.


And regardless of the pressure and subsequent progress that is being made in Swaziland towards such dialogue with the absolute monarch, Mario Masuku is still only cautiously optimistic.

“It is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Well our king treasures authority and power, as well as his immense resources, and will not easily give them up. Any negotiations will therefore be a fierce battle, and we are yet to see how he will react to talks of taking away the power he wields or his private investment funds”, he says.

“And even if the king agrees to become a constitutional monarch, he still wields a lot of power through the traditional authorities. All these matters must be resolved before any process towards a democratic Swaziland of the future can be set in motion”, says Mario Masuku.