Swaziland police and state security forces have been condemned for their 'increasingly violent and abusive behaviour' that is leading to the 'militarization' of the kingdom.
Things are so bad in the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, that police are unable to accept that peaceful political and social dissent is a vital element of a healthy democratic process, and should not be viewed as a crime.
These complaints were made by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) at the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia on Wednesday (10 April 2013).
OSISA said, 'There are also reliable reports of a general militarization of the country through the deployment of the Swazi army, police and correctional services to clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country's undemocratic elections.'
OSISA was commenting on the trend in Southern Africa for police and security services to be increasingly violent and abusive of human rights.
In particular, OSISA highlighted how the police continued to clamp down on dissenting voices and the legitimate public activities of opposition political parties prior to, during and after elections.
In a statement OSISA said, 'Swaziland and Zimbabwe are both due to hold elections in the coming months and the police in both countries are notorious for preventing public rallies and harassing opposition politicians and civil society figures in the run-up to polls - a clear violation of the basic right to freedom of assembly.'
On 12 April Swaziland will mark the 40th anniversary since political parties were banned. OSISA said this was 'another clear violation of a basic right - to freedom of association'.
OSISA told the ACHPR meeting that in February this year a battalion of armed police invaded the Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral in Manzini and forced the congregation to vacate the church alleging that the service 'intended to sabotage the country's general elections'.
OSISA added, 'A month later, a heavily armed group of police backed up by the Operational Support Services Unit prevented members of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) from holding a peaceful commemoration prayer in celebration of the federation's anniversary. In both instances there was no court order giving the police the legal authority to halt the prayers.'
Leopoldo de Amaral, OSISA's Human Rights Programme Manager, said, 'These cases illustrate a general alarming trend in southern Africa - how state parties across the region are using security institutions to intimidate and silence civil society actors and implant a sense of fear among the country's citizens.'