Date: April 16, 2007
Swaziland police attempt to murder political activist in public
The April 13, 2007 issue of the Times of Swaziland published a horrific image of Swaziland police strangling a peaceful political protester. Five armed police officers pounced on the protester lifting his body into mid-air whilst one of the officers strangled him. In the picture, the protester is seen helplessly trying to ease the police officer's grip on his throat. As shocking as this image may be to the international community, the people of Swaziland are exposed to this kind of political violence and gross violation of human rights on a daily basis.
The strangling of the protester occurred during the commemoration of the death of democracy on April 12, 1973 when the late King Sobhuza II, through the King's Proclamation to the nation, declared himself an absolute monarch. On April 12, 2007, PUDEMO organised a peaceful border blockade in protest against the continued effects of this Proclamation, notably the ban on political parties. The event was supported by the South African-based Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and The South African Communist Party (SACP). Whilst the South African police assisted the peaceful protest on the South African side of the border, the Swaziland police preferred violence.
PUDEMO calls upon the international community to condemn this contemptuous display of sadistic rage by the Swaziland police. There is no other explanation of the conduct of the police other than an attempt to murder the protester by strangling him. The use of such a dangerous stranglehold is a criminal act and the police officer should be charged with attempted murder. His colleagues should be charged as accomplices to attempted murder.
It is now beyond doubt that police violence against unarmed Swazi citizens has reached extreme levels. When the police adopt extreme measures that threaten human life in an attempt to silence opposing voices, there is little hope for the future. Often these measures are characteristics of a failing state and a corrupt political regime that has invested so much in maintaining its stranglehold on political power. As is clearly demonstrated in contemporary Zimbabwean politics, such investment has great human cost. Like Zimbabwe, Swaziland has invested significant time and resources to training killer police to keep the royal family in government. Since 1973, institutionalised violence against citizens has been the hallmark of the policing culture in Swaziland. The signing into law in 2005 of the so-called constitution has had no effect on this culture. Policing of state critics is still heavily influenced by the repressive tradition established by the King's Proclamation of 1973.
Claims that the Constitution Act of 2005 repealed the 1973 Proclamation amount to pure hogwash. In its April 13, 2007 commentary, the Times of Swaziland refers to the 1973 Proclamation as a "repealed" law but there is no reference to the legal instrument that repealed the Proclamation. The Proclamation has not been formally abrogated but it is generally assumed that it has been invalidated because it is not "consistent" with the Constitution Act of 2005. However, the consistency of the Proclamation with the 2005 Act is yet to be tested in the courts. By his own admission, the Attorney General told a delegation from the International Labour Organisation in June 2006 that the Proclamation has not been repealed.
PUDEMO has consistently pointed out that the Proclamation is indeed consistent with the Act of 2005 in many respects. The ban on political parties and the concentration of legislative and executive powers in the hands of the king appear in both laws. Section 15(4) is one of the disturbing aspects of the 2005 Act, which must be seen as a reproduction of the violent police culture established under the 1973 Proclamation. This section permits the killing of citizens for purposes of crime prevention, arrest and suppression of riots. This Section is inconsistent with Article 2(2) of United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which states:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
Swaziland is State Party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Section 18(2) of the 2005 Act prohibits the subjugation of individuals "...to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment", yet Section 15(4) provides a window of opportunity for violent policing practices. The strangling of the peaceful protestor is cruel, inhumane and degrading. It contravenes both the UN Convention on Torture and regime's own constitution law. In response to public outrage, the police are already trying to justify this despicable practice in terms of Section 15(4).
Even given the existence of Section 15(4), any attempts by the police to justify the strangulation of the protester are completely unacceptable. The images clearly show that the protester was being held by five police officers. He was part of a peaceful protest and therefore not presenting a threat to anyone or to property. He was merely expressing his political opinion. Furthermore, one assumes that FIVE burly police officers are sufficient to make a civilised arrest without the need for strangulation. Therefore, there are absolutely no grounds for the police to justify their behaviour even under the provisions of Section 15 (4).
Mass arrest and sedition charges for peaceful protest
In addition to the attempted murder, the police arrested more than ten pro-democracy activists for participating in a peaceful protest during the border blockade. The activists have been charged with sedition after they were found in possession of pamphlets and placards demanding political change. Some of the detainees are still awaiting trial for treason after they were falsely accused of firebombing government property. Recently, one of the detainees, Mpandlana Shongwe, was savagely beaten by police at the Manzini police station until he was unconscious. Shongwe sustained serious injuries including broken ribs.
For several years the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) has cautioned that the Government of Swaziland is using the new Constitution as a Trojan Horse with the intention of increasing its violent political repression. Through the Constitution, the royal family masquerades as a benign dictator with no real political power. However, the truth is that King Mswati III is not a benign dictator but a malign dictator who rules Swaziland with an iron fist. The Constitution is not, as the regime and the Commonwealth Secretariat claim, a peace offering but an insidious document with great potential to harm our people. Those who placed much hope in the Constitution Act of 2005 must now hang their heads in shame for colluding with King Mswati III's attempt to hide the repression. Among these, is the Commonwealth Secretariat and sections of local media, mainly the royal-family owned The Swazi Observer, who continue to peddle false beliefs that the Constitution protects citizens' rights and freedoms.
PUDEMO reiterates its long-standing position that in the absence of political will among the ruling elite to embrace democracy, the Constitution and its Bill of Rights provision have no meaning and effect. In the absence of political will, the rights and freedoms enshrined in the so-called Bill of Rights will remain empty words with no real meaning. There are strong indications that the government is not at all committed to transforming the Bill of Rights into substantive rights and freedoms by creating the necessary conditions and institutions to allow citizens to exercise these rights. The strangling of the protester, the harassment of PUDEMO members, the arrests and sedition charges all provide unambiguous message that it is business as usual.
We demand the immediate release of all political prisoners and unconditional withdrawal of all charges against our people. PUDEMO will take this fight to the South African Development Community (SADC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. We will continue to voice our disgust about this sadistic regime until we are heard. They can arrest us and strangle us to death but we will never give up the fight for our rights and freedoms.
Dr. Jabulane Matsebula
Australia, Asia and the South Pacific Region