Swaziland: Police No Right to Disrupt Prayers

About 60 armed Swazi police broke up a prayer meeting before it had even started, claiming that the law had been broken.

This happened last week (16 February 2013) in a school hall at Salesian in Manzini. Police claimed the people attending were not present for prayers, but had gathered together to plot against national elections due to be held in Swaziland sometime later this year (2013).

This, police said, allowed them to break up the meeting without a court order or a warrant.

Police spokesperson Inspector Khulani Mamba, said they were acting on information that the prayers were a meeting to plan to disturb forthcoming national elections.

'When we see a crime happening, we don't need a court order,' Mamba told local media last week.

But, Musa Hlophe, the coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisation (SCCCO), one of the best known NGOs in the kingdom, says, nothing had happened at the meeting to give police cause to stop it.

Writing in his regular column in the Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland, Hlophe gave details of what happened when the police arrived.

He wrote, 'In a school hall at Salesian in Manzini (not a church) a meeting was organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign. They called it a "Prayer for Multiparty".

'It was publicly advertised as open to all. The Royal Swaziland Police obviously saw the advertisement and decided to please their political masters by not allowing it.

'They claimed the meeting was called to plan how to disrupt the upcoming national elections. What law did the police say these people broke?

'Even more importantly, where is the police evidence to even suspect a crime?

'Dissent and even peaceful disruption or defiance are not crimes. Therefore, planning them cannot be a crime either.

'Either way, the police charged in and demanded that the private meeting be broken up. Faced with such a show of force, the organisers reluctantly agreed to these demands. They then thought that by moving to a church, they would be protected. They did so.

'The Swazi Police reacted by finding the new meeting and invading it again, this time forcing the people out within "seven minutes".

'Did the police not see that this would lead to a bigger problem for their masters?

'The Highest Authorities in the land including, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), Minister of Justice and those above them, have all spoken very clearly in international meetings like the United Nations and the African Union, that protest meetings are allowed in Swaziland.

'They often say they can ban certain public rallies because they think they are a danger to the public. That cannot be the case here since the meeting was of a small number of people in a private area. So the Swazi Police now raid a church to stop a few people protesting against a system they see as being undemocratic?

'I was going to say the "protesters" were forced to leave the hall but I would be wrong. They had not even started to protest or even to plan their protest.

'They had merely gathered together and were yet to speak. The Police found them guilty of crimes before they had opened their mouths.

'I have talked to the people who were there. They were certainly intending to open debates on whether the national elections that we expect in August 2013 should be contested or boycotted but I am yet to see a crime in that. They wanted to get their campaign off on the right foot by seeking spiritual reflection and guidance from the Bible.

'There is not yet a declared law in Swaziland against having a different opinion, yet our police treat it as a crime.

'Officially, there is no reason to stop anyone organising a protest but the Swazi police greet peaceful dissidents with brute force, rubber bullets and batons.'

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