Statement on Swazi Prime Minister’s Comments Threatening Civil Society Activists

Salc : Staff Writer

Johannesburg: The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) condemns the statements made by Swazi Prime Minister, Barnabus Sibusiso Dlamini, in which he called on union representatives to “strangle” two civil society activists when they return to Swaziland. Dlamini was addressing Members of Parliament during a debate on his ministry’s performance earlier this week.

Sipho Gumedze, a member of Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland), and Vincent Ncongwane, secretary general of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), have been in Washington DC to attend a civil society conference that had been organised to coincide with the US-Africa Summit hosted by President Barack Obama.  Dlamini maintained that they had travelled to the United States without informing the government and the trade unions, and that they undermined the engagement the Swazi government sought to have at the summit on the the recent withdrawal of American financial assistance in terms of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA). While the government is calling for reinstatement of Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility, human rights organisations are pressing the US government to maintain their position that assistance is conditional on the country improving its human rights record.

“In making these statements the Prime Minister has demonstrated clear contempt for the rights to freedom of expression and of association – both of which are protected by the Swazi Constitution. The government is obliged to protect these rights, so for one of its most senior officials to threaten and incite violence against those exercising these rights is especially concerning”, said Nicole Fritz, director of SALC.

SALC calls on the Prime Minister to withdraw these comments, and urges the Swazi authorities to ensure Gumedze and Ncognwane’s physical safety on their return to Swaziland, as well as their ability to exercise their constitutionally protected rights to express their opinion freely and to associate with groups of their choosing.

SALC is alarmed at this latest incident of repression and intimidation against human rights defenders in Swaziland. Last month the High Court sentenced human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, and magazine editor, Bheki Makhubu to two years imprisonment after the pair wrote articles that were critical of the Swazi judiciary. Nine other activists are currently facing charges of terrorism and sedition after participating in various demonstrations calling for increased human rights protection in Swaziland.

Issued by:  The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)

Further Info:  Nicole Fritz, SALC Director; (c) +27 82 600 1028;  (t) +27 10 596 8538; (e) nicolef@salc.org.za