2 July 2013

Swaziland: State Police Spy On Local MPs

Police in Swaziland are spying on the kingdom's members of parliament.

One officer disguised in plain clothes was thrown out of a workshop for MPs and one MP reported his phone has been bugged.

The revelations come as international organsations have begun to criticise the way police and security services are used by the ruling elite in Swaziland to undermine opposition to the regime headed by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

On Monday (1 July 2013), Ntondozi MP Peter Ngwenya told the House of Assembly that MPs lived in fear because there was constant police presence, in particular from officers in the Intelligence Unit.

The Times of Swaziland newspaper reported that at the same sitting of the House Lobamba MP Majahodvwa Khumalo said his cellphone had been bugged ever since he started being 'vocal against some people'.

The House was told that MPs were attending a workshop on the Elections Expenses Bill when they discovered a plain-clothed police officer taking notes of the MPs' comments. He was ejected from the meeting.

The Times reported that Ngwenya said as MPs they were now afraid to do anything because there was too much police presence in their midst. 'We know of the police who ensure our safety and they are normally in uniform, we do not know what is happening now,' he said.

This is not the first example of police spying. In May 2013, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) reported that police spies had infiltrated journalism newsrooms in Swaziland, which had led to a heightened climate of fear.

MISA reported that police interrogated one of the reporters at one of the media houses after common and casual newsroom talk with colleagues.

In April 2013, the US Embassy in Swaziland said it had 'deep concern' about the way police engage in 'acts of intimidation and fear' against people seeking their political rights. The statement came after armed police, acting without a court order, barricaded a restaurant in Manzini to stop people attending a public meeting to discuss the forthcoming election in Swaziland.

In the same month, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported that recently Swaziland police and state security forces had shown 'increasingly violent and abusive behaviour' that was leading to the 'militarization' of the kingdom.

OSISA told the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia, '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.'

In April 2013, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), two organiastions campaigning for democracy in the kingdom, in a joint statement said police in Swaziland were now a 'private militia' with the sole purpose of serving the Royal regime. This was after about 80 armed officers broke up a public meeting to discuss the lack of democracy in the kingdom.

Elections are to be held in Swaziland in September. The regime, headed by King Mswati, has refused to allow any discussion about the election or the political system in the kingdom to take place.

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, the banned youth group SWAYOCO tried to hold a rally 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.

Following these events, raids on the homes of democracy activists in Swaziland took place. 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.

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