Prodemocracy campaigners say the release of two of their leaders Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini on bail after 14 months on remand in jail does not prove things are changing in Swaziland.
The two men were awaiting trial on sedition charges after making prodemocracy statements at a May Day rally in 2014.
The Swazi Supreme Court released them on Tuesday (14 July 2015). But Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Party (PUDEMO) and Dlamini, Secretary-General of PUDEMO’s youth wing SWAYOCO, must still stand trial for their alleged offences.
The two men have also had strict bail conditions placed on them and are unable to address public gatherings while out on bail.
PUDEMO and SWAYOCO are among a number of organisations banned in Swaziland under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The release of Masuku and Dlamini was met with jubilation in some quarters, but other responses have been more measured.
The Foundation for Socio Economic Justice Swaziland, said in a statement, ‘The two human rights defenders and political activists in being arrested flagged out a gross violation of the right and freedom of association and expression which are still being prevented by one of the bail condition in not allowing them to address in public gatherings.’
The Swaziland National Union of Students, of which Dlamini is a former president, said it welcomed the release of the two leaders. It added, ‘We remain firm to our fundamental objectives that is the realisation of democracy in our country, where every citizen will have the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association where all Swazis will be equal in front of the law and every citizen in the of our forefathers will have equal opportunities.’
PUDEMO said in a statement, ‘The release of President Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini, which follows that of the two prisoners of conscience in journalist Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, must not be interpreted to mean the end of an era. The cosmetic judicial reforms and changing of faces must not deceive our people to mean things are in order either. This is not a solution. A solution to the problems of our country is the introduction of a constitutional multiparty democracy, end to dictatorship and the unjust laws such as the Suppression of Terrorism Act.’
SWAYOCO, in a statement, said, ‘There is nothing to celebrate when our leaders are out on bail with such stringent conditions that are in serious contravention of the very Tinkhundla constitution which “guarantees” the freedom of expression and assembly. The condition to the effect that these two leaders cannot address public gatherings can only serve as an indication that there is a bigger problem in Swaziland. This must be addressed now.’
PUDEMO, in a statement, also praised ‘democracy-loving peoples of the world’ for supporting the call for democracy in Swaziland.
It said, ‘Ever since the arrest of President Masuku and Maxwell, scores of people all over the world have joined the people of Swaziland’s call for the release of the two leaders, alongside other political prisoners in Swaziland. We thank the international community for being with us in the call for the release of the duo, and by extension the call for a democratic Swaziland.
‘Specifically we thank the practical support and solidarity from organizations and governments namely The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the South African Communist Party (SACP), the African National Congress, the European Union (EU), the US government, the Danish and Norwegian governments as well as the entire civil society movement across the world.’
DEMOCRACY LEADERS FREED ON BAIL
RELEASED INTO THE BIG SWAZI PRISON