Swaziland: Police Make Illegal House Arrest

A senior trade union leader in Swaziland was illegally placed under house arrest today (1 May 2013) by police who wanted to prevent him attending a May Day rally.

Muzi Mhlanga, the secretary general of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), was about to leave his home to attend a rally at the Salesian Sports Ground, Manzini, when he realised six policemen were on the doorstep of his home to prevent him leaving.

They had neither court order nor warrant to place him under house arrest.

Mhlanga told his Facebook followers, 'I am under house arrests. I was about to leave for the May Day commemoration when I heard that there were six police officers outside my house who wanted to see me.'

He added that he was told, 'that they have been ordered to make sure that I do not go out of my house. They are now sitting at the entrance as I speak.'

Police across Swaziland have ben preventing leaders of the campaign for democracy in the kingdom from attending May Day celebrations. Mario Masuku, president of the banned People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) was taken in by police after he refused to obey instructions not to leave his house.

Earlier this week the Swazi Industrial Court banned the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) from organising May Day activities. The court said TUCOSWA was not a legally-recognised labour organisation.

SNAT in a statement following Mhlanga's house arrest said, 'The Swaziland Government doesn't allow workers to freely celebrate the Workers' Day.

'The Minister for Labour, in the Government Radio, yesterday denied that the Government was against workers celebrating the Workers' Day, but they will not allow the day celebrated under the banner of the new federation, TUCOSWA. They say workers can celebrate Workers Day as individual Unions, not to come together under the new federation TUCOSWA.

'A number of other leaders in the labour movement have been under house arrest, some were forced to go back to their homes. Clearly the government will go all the way to make sure the new federation TUCOSWA does not operate.'

Protests have been growing in recent weeks across Swaziland against national elections due to take place later this year. Political parties are banned from taking part in the election and the parliament that will be elected has no power. King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

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.

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 forced the meeting to close. Organisers of the meeting have been charged with sedition.

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