Australia, Asian and the Pacific Region
December 23, 2005
The Government of Swaziland takes political prisoners to avert public criticism against the huge pay rise for politicians
Few days after it was made public that the Government of Swaziland has awarded politicians a three-fold pay rise, twelve members of PUDEMO and its youth wing SWAYOCO were taken prisoners. The charges against the twelve range from manufacturing petrol bombs to arson and attempted murder. These trumped up charges are part of a broader witch-hunt and conspiracy against the pro-democracy movement. They are a way of expressing gratitude to King Mswati III for the huge pay rise. The police explanation of the allegations against the twelve has no credibility and, as it stands, will not see the light of day in court.
Firstly, over the years PUDEMO and SWAYOCO have consistently led direct political challenges to the monarchy repression. Persecution, harassment, imprisonment and violence against the membership of these organisations are a daily occurrence. Consistent with the government policy to depoliticise political issues, the witch-hunt against pro-democracy activists is often disguised as a law and order issue. Over the years, the police and state prosecutors have manufactured evidence against our membership. In most cases charges are dropped before they proceed to court after weeks of torture and interrogation in police lock ups. Cases that have proceeded to court have collapsed because they have failed to provide credible evidence.
However, securing convictions is not the priority of the police and the Director of Public Prosecution. Their objective is to use the criminal investigation provision to inflict as much pain as possible on the general membership of the pro-democracy movement. Swaziland uses and condones torture. At the remand hearings for the current cases, the defence council revealed that some of the twelve suspects were tortured in police lock ups. Before the remand appearance, all twelve suspects were held in secret locations. Some were taken away at night without the knowledge of their families. We expect that the prosecution will lose the case in court but the police have already achieved their objective of punishing pro-democracy activists. In 2002, we saw the collapse of the rule of law for several months as the police and government refused to obey legitimate orders of the judiciary. Now we see the legal process in Swaziland being misused as a political tool, to disguise the punishment of state critics.
Secondly, the current policy which depoliticises political issues and prohibits party politics means that the government is unable to engage with the pro-democracy movement at a political level. As evidenced by the ongoing persecution of our membership, the only way the government can engage with the movement is violence. PUDEMO and SWAYOCO peaceful public protests are always brutally suppressed. For years, the government has made numerous attempts to draw PUDEMO and SWAYOCO into violent confrontation because it has no strategy or will to deal with the political crisis peacefully.
Through the royal family-owned print media The Swazi Observer, the government tried unsuccessfully to link PUDEMO and SWAYOCO with bombing and arson attacks against state infrastructure. Recently, The Swazi Observer was quick to link fresh sporadic arson incidents to PUDEMO. These incidents are highly suspicious and we regard them as yet another attempt by the government and The Swazi Observer to construct PUDEMO and SWAYOCO as violent organisations. We have always maintained our commitment to peaceful political dialogue. We have no interest in this Mickey-Mouse arson activity and it in no way represents our political strategy. Over the years, PUDEMO and SWAYOCO have developed the capacity to crush the regime at a political level. The regime is fearful of this, hence the violent witch-hunt against our membership.
Thirdly, the arrests are designed to ward off public and international criticism against the huge pay rise recently granted to politicians. The pay rise is morally wrong and has generated massive public outcry and disenchantment with the system. By producing political activists as scapegoats for the so-called bomb attacks, the government hopes to sleep well over the Christmas season. However, we have the obligation to make sure that this does not happen and our members are not used as pawns for bad state decision-making. We will pursue the regime for wasting public resources and for the wrongful imprisonment of our members.
We call upon pro-democracy and human rights movements throughout the world to condemn the arrest and torture of the twelve political activists. Please support democracy in Swaziland and demand the immediate release of the twelve. Tell the Government of Swaziland that political persecution and torture have no place in the modern world.
Dr Jabulane Matsebula
Australia, Asia and the Pacific Region