19 July 2012

Swaziland: Police Seal Parliament From Protest

Heavily-armed state police sealed off the Swaziland parliament to stop protestors delivering a petition.

About 1,000 parents and teachers were stopped 500m from parliament yesterday (18 July 2012) and told they could go no further. They were calling on the Swazi Government to find a solution to the indefinite teachers' strike over pay that has been going on for a month.

They also want parliament to pass a vote of no confidence in the government; scrap the recently introduced 14 percent Value Added Tax; and scrap 'circular No. 1', an order that allows government ministers and parliamentarians inflated financial benefits.

Teachers, civil servants and nurses are on strike in Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. They want pay rises of 4.5 percent.

Strikers have endured rough treatment from Swazi police who have used rubber bullets teargas and batons to attack peaceful protestors.

The Centre for Human Rights, Swaziland, said, 'The ongoing series of protest marches and strikes have crippled the education system as no lessons have been offered in public schools country wide in the past month.

'The state responded by bringing contempt of court proceedings against leaders of the teachers' union SNAT (Swaziland National Association of Teachers), seeking their incarceration in jail for a period of 30 days. The matter is still in court.

'The economic crisis, education crisis, and other social ills currently gripping Swaziland have begun to have telling effects on other sectors of society as well. In a two-day protest action that ended yesterday by public transport operators in the city of Manzini, police shot an innocent bystander, Bonginkosi Mkhonto, in the stomach for watching protesting transport operators. Other incidents of police brutality were reported during this protest action.

'The public operators' protest action came after a public bus driver was fined R4800 by a court, when police refused to let him pay a R60 on-the-spot fine.

'Ever since the public service strike actions began, several innocent civilians have been butchered by state security forces. Tear gas, sjamboks, rubber bullets, fists and other weapons have been used on school children as young as nine.

'In other incidents, school children were made to do push up and carry stones as a form of 'punishment' by trigger happy state police officers.

'In most of these violent situations, the state police often claim they were provoked, hence the decision to unleash violence on unarmed peaceful protestors. To date, there is no record of members of the security officers who have been prosecuted for violating human rights.'

The Centre added, 'It is worth noting that Swaziland is party to a number of African Union and United Nations human rights instruments, including the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). Peaceful protests are also protected by the country's 2005 constitution, yet police continue to violate human rights with impunity.'

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