1 November 2011
Swazi police 'fire teargas' during court protest
MBABANE — Swazi police fired teargas today (1 November 2011) outside a courthouse in the capital Mbabane to disperse protesters demanding the Supreme Court stop its work amid a strike by lawyers, a union official said.
"The police blocked us, we resisted. They fired teargas canisters and we scattered," Muzi Mhlanga, secretary general of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, told AFP.
The union is one of many that planned a four-day general strike this week to support the striking lawyers, but were blocked from doing so by a government court order.
Instead, about 30 union leaders gathered outside the court as a six-member panel of international jurists began a sitting Tuesday. Riot vehicles ringed the courthouse and armed guards were positioned outside and inside the building.
"People are being put through criminal appeals without representation. What is going on in there amounts to a perversion of justice," said Zwele Jele, spokesman for the Swaziland Law Society.
"The Supreme Court is going on with or without attorneys," Lorraine Hlophe, Registrar of the Supreme Court, confirmed.
Swaziland is among several small countries in the region that rely on international judges to bolster its highest court, with judges from South Africa, Zimbabwe and the United States.
Striking attorneys walked out of the first session Tuesday saying hearings should be suspended until their labour action is resolved.
The judicial crisis was sparked in June when Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi suspended High Court Judge Thomas Masuku for allegedly "insulting" King Mswati III. Masuku, seen as one of the only critical voices in the southern African kingdom's judiciary, was fired in September.
Lesotho-born Ramodebedi claims the lawyers' complaints against him motivated by xenophobia.
Civil society groups say the state of affairs is hurting ordinary Swazis already suffering the effects of a deep financial crisis.
On Monday night, police stopped a prayer meeting in a church in Mbabane where labour unions hoped to appeal for divine intervention to end the crisis.