Swaziland is now a police state, according to the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church in the kingdom.
This follows the raid by 60 armed police on Saturday (16 February 2013) to break up a prayer meeting held by democracy supporters. The police had no warrant or court order and acted against the Swazi Constitution.
Christians condemned the police action which took place at the Our Lady of Assumption Catholic cathedral in Manzini.
The Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) in a statement said the raid broke Chapter 111 S 23 (2) of the constitution that reads:
'Except with the free consent of that person, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of the freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this section freedom of conscience includes freedom of thought and of religion or belief, and freedom of worship either alone or in community with others.'
The JPC said, 'Here are peace loving people wanting to pray for their country and the prayer is thwarted by members of the Royal Swaziland Police.'
The JPC said it could not be denied that Swaziland was now a police state.
The trouble started on Saturday after police broke up the prayer meeting organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC). The prayers were to be held to support a campaign to show that national elections due in Swaziland this year were undemocratic.
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. The people are only allowed to select 55 members of the House of Assembly and no members of the Senate. Political parties are banned and the King choses the Prime Minister and senior government ministers.
In Swaziland, King Mswati lives in opulence with 13 palaces, fleets of Mercedes and BMW cars and a private luxury jet. His 1 million subjects, meanwhile, live in abject poverty. Seven in 10 earn less than US$2 a day.
The JPC said, 'Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity as well as social and international peace.'
South African Council of Churches in a statement said, 'No one must be fooled to think that the God of the People of Swaziland is deaf and dumb to their daily cry for bread, salt, sugar and water. They too wish to come out of poverty and enjoy the freedom that they work hard and struggle for.
'We call upon those in authority to read the signs of time and begin to act in a direction popular to God's way and the demands of the suffering people.'
The Manzini Cathedral Parish Administrator Father Pius Magagula called the police raid a 'barbaric act was carried out before our esteemed visitor from South Africa Methodist Church Bishop Paul Verryn'. He said it was 'shameful for the church'.
The Swazi Observer newspaper quoted him saying, 'In the entire world over, the Roman Catholic church has always been a safe haven for any person in need of shelter or safe keeping. It is only in this country that the Church is not accorded the respect it has always enjoyed.'