20 December 2019, Mbabane – In a coordinated operation in the early hours of this morning, Eswatini police visited the houses of a number of pro-democracy activists including Sikelela Dlamini, Secretary General of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), Jan Sithole, President of the Swazi Democratic Party (SWADEPA), Mbongeni Mnisi, SWADEPA youth leader, Sibongile Mazibuko, President of the Ngwane National Liberation Congress (NNLC), Dumsane Fakudze, chairperson of the Communist Party of Swaziland, Wandile Dludlu, Secretary General of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Mphandlana Shongwe, a member of the National Executive Committee of PUDEMO, and Amos Bulunga, PUDEMO Manzini Secretary, and Themba Mabuza from the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and others whose names could not be established at the time of publishing this statement. The search warrants indicated that the police intended to confiscate all laptops, computers, cell phones and tablets in their possession.
The police subsequently detained a number of the activists, including Jan Sithole, Sikelela Dlamini, Sibongile Mazibuko, Wandile Dludlu, Amos Bulunga, Dumsane Fakudze, Themba Mabuza and Mbongeni Mnisi. They were released a few hours later after interrogations.
Earlier in the week, on 17 December 2019, the police questioned the Chairperson of Sive Siyinqaba National Movement (Sibahle Sinje), Musa Nkambula, at the Manzini police headquarters. He was released pending investigations and his cell phone was confiscated.
We are concerned by the actions of the police, which appear to be targeted at those activists who have been prominently involved in protests relating to workers’ rights and who have been promoting multi-party democracy and government accountability in the country.
We note with concern the manner in which the searches were carried out, and the trauma it caused for the activists and their families.
We call on the government to respect its citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and to end the harassment of the leadership of political parties and trade unions. We further call on the government to release all persons who are currently in custody because of their criticism of the monarchy, including Goodwill Sibiya, who has been detained since May 2019.
We call on the government to take note of the September 2019 High Court judgment in the Sibiya case which urged the police not to charge any persons under offences which had been declared unconstitutional by the High Court in 2016 and where an appeal is pending. In that case, the High Court has declared the primary sections of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act and Suppression of Terrorism Act unconstitutional.
We further call on the international community to engage the Eswatini government to ensure its adherence to rule of law and the protection of human rights defenders.
ISSUED BY THE SOUTHERN AFRICA LITIGATION CENTRE