The Swaziland Government restricted freedoms of speech and the press during the past year and banned the publication of criticism of King Mswati III.
These are the main findings of a survey on press freedom in Swaziland, released last week.
Although the Swaziland Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the king may waive these rights at his discretion, and the government restricted these rights during 2008, especially regarding political issues or the royal family.
Most journalists practiced self-censorship even though the law empowers the government to ban publications if they are deemed ‘prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health’.
The US State Department in its annual Country Report on Swaziland 2008 states, ‘During the year the attorney general and the prime minister warned journalists and diplomats against making statements that could be interpreted as seditious. After the arrest in November of Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), several civic organizations, including the Council of Swaziland Churches and the Law Society, published notices in daily papers alerting the king to their concern about the ‘selective implementation of the country's constitution’.
The State Department notes that journalists were threatened, harassed, assaulted, and detained during the year, particularly after Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini warned in November that journalists who criticized the government could be viewed as supporting terrorists and arrested under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
Journalists received anonymous telephone calls advising them not to pursue particular stories, and many of them complied, according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
In June, traditional governor Jim Gama harshly criticized the print media for negative reporting on a national gathering called by the king.
In August, soldiers assaulted a Times newspaper team and seized their cameras; the journalists were at the airport to cover the return of nine of the king’s wives and their entourage from a lavish shopping spree abroad. No action was taken against the soldiers.
In September, police searched and harassed freelance journalist Lunga Masuku and Times newspaper reporter Peter Mavuso, who were covering a labour demonstration aimed at blocking the movement of goods between Swaziland and South Africa. Police also threatened to delete photos from the camera of the Times journalist. After a verbal confrontation, the officers allowed the journalists to carry on with their duties.
In December, police officers detained two freelance journalists for six hours after raiding the location where they were meeting an informant. The police repeatedly slapped the journalists and broke their equipment. No investigation of the incident had been conducted by year's end.