Swaziland (eSwatini) ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III is to spend more money on national security in the coming year, the Swazi Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg announced in his annual budget.
Prodemocracy campaigners have been active in recent years and police and security forces have used violence to break up legal demonstrations.
Rijkenberg did not put a figure on the additional expenditure in his speech on Friday (14 February 2020).
He told the Swazi Parliament, ‘Support to our security forces as we pursue economic stability and growth in the country is key to sustainable development of our nation. This budget seeks to strengthen public order management and state security systems which are important factors in ensuring that the country’s safety and security landscape is conducive for investment.’
The security forces include the army, police force and correctional services.
In recent years police and other security services have been criticised outside the kingdom for their brutal attacks on legal demonstrations. Swaziland is not a democracy and political parties are barred from taking part in elections. Groups advocating for democracy are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
In Swaziland the King chooses the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers. He also picks senior judges and senior civil servants.
Following elections in 2018, King Mswati appointed eight members of his Royal Family to the kingdom’s 30-member Senate and another six to the House of Assembly.
Freedom House scored Swaziland 16 out of a possible 100 points in its Freedom in the World 2019 report. It concluded that Swaziland was ‘not free’.
In September 2019 police had used teargas, rubber bullets, water cannon and live ammunition during a strike by public servants. At least 15 people were injured. The violence happened in Mbabane after what local media called ‘a long day of peaceful protest’. The police brutality was condemned by international human rights observers.
In September 2018 the Swazi Police were criticised by human rights groups when they attacked workers led by the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) who were demonstrating in Manzini for salary increases, a national minimum wage and an increase in elderly grants (pensions). Police used teargas and stun-grenades.
Videos and photographs of brutal police attacks were uploaded on social media.
Swaziland Human Rights Network UK in a statement at the time said, ‘The violent attack on peacefully demonstrating TUCOSWA members is reprehensible as it was a violation of their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and expression.’
It added, ‘The eSwatini government has turned the country into a violent police state where the security services have been turned into tools of suppression to protect the interests of not just the government but the regime of King Mswati III.’
The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) said in its statement following the budget speech, ‘This means labour unions and other civil society organisations shall be silenced, violently so and no voices of dissent will be allowed. Citizens must keep quiet, toe the line and that equals to peace, money has been set aside to procure guns and all sorts of artillery for that exercise. This is what dictatorships are known for, world over.’
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