April 2013 has been one of the worst months in living memory for human rights in Swaziland.
The conviction of Bheki Makhubu and the Nation magazine for 'scandalising the courts' by publishing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary sent waves of anger across the world. Makhubu faces two years in jail and his magazine closure if he loses an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Other violations of rights in Swaziland this month attracted less attention.
On 12 April, democrats wanted to mark the 40th anniversary of King Sobhuza's Royal Decree that in 1973 turned Swaziland from a democracy to a kingdom ruled by an autocratic monarch, by holding a public meeting to discuss the forthcoming national election in Swaziland. All political parties are banned from taking part and the meeting was to discuss why this was so.
Armed police and riot troops, acting without a court order, physically blocked the restaurant in Manzini where the meeting was to take place. The police said the meeting was a threat to state security.
A week later, on 19 April, the 45th birthday of King Mswati III, who presently rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, a youth group tried to hold a meeting at Msunduza Township in Mbabane to discuss the election. Again, police acting on their own initiative, forced the meeting to close. Organisers of the meeting have been charged with sedition.
Raids on the homes of democracy activists in Swaziland took place during the month. Wonder Mkhonza, the National Organizing Secretary of the banned political party the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) was allegedly found in possession of 5,000 pamphlets belonging to PUDEMO. He has been charged with sedition.
The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), in a joint statement said police in Swaziland were now a 'private militia' with the sole purpose of serving the Royal regime.
During this month, but before the most recent events, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia that Swaziland was becoming a 'military state'. OSISA reported that the Swazi army, police and correctional services were being deployed to 'clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country's undemocratic elections'.
Separately, the US Embassy in Swaziland voiced its 'deep concern' about the way the police engaged in 'acts of intimidation and fear' against people seeking their political rights.
In its annual review of human rights in Swaziland, published this month, the US State Department recorded, 'The three main human rights abuses were police use of excessive force, including use of torture, beatings, and unlawful killings; restrictions on freedoms of association, assembly, and speech; and discrimination and abuse of women and children.
'Other human rights problems included arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and persons with albinism; harassment of labor leaders; child labor; mob violence; and restrictions on worker rights.
'In general perpetrators acted with impunity, and the government took few or no steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses.'
Swazi Media Commentary has published Swaziland: Striving For Freedom, available free-of-charge at scribd dot com, the fourth volume of information, commentary and analysis on human rights taken from articles first published on the blogsite in April 2013. Each month throughout this year a digest of articles will be published bringing together in one place material that is rarely found elsewhere.
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