Banned opposition groups in Swaziland are calling on the international community to withdraw support from King Mswati III's government to pressure the administration to embrace their demands for democratic reforms.
Mario Masuku, leader of the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), says the opposition contends the administration uses state institutions such as the police and the judicial services to undermine freedom of speech and association, as well as intimidate and harass opponents of the government.
Government officials disagree, saying the administration ensures law and order and protects the lives and property of citizens by using those institutions to carry out its constitutional mandate.
"We know clearly that there is no independence of justices in Swaziland. Firstly, because there is what we call the Judicial Services Commission, which is appointed by His Majesty the King, the judges are appointed by that body, and obviously they will make judgment that are in favor of the regime," said Masuku.
He says Swazis seeking democratic reforms and respect for human rights will not relent on their efforts to pressure the administration in spite of the lack of international support.
"The democratization and the liberation of Swaziland must be an act of the people of Swaziland. However, Swaziland cannot be an island of dictatorship in a sea of democracies," said Masuku. "We can only ask for international solidarity... and that is where the international community is going to assist us. Otherwise, the battle [for democracy] would be fought in Swaziland."
But the government says banned groups like Masuku's seek to create chaos and violence to force a regime change. Officials also point to recent elections as an example of citizens' participation in the country's governance, saying Swazis freely elected their representatives in the national assembly (parliament).
But, Masuku differed, says the recent parliamentary vote failed to meet international standards.
"The government that is in place right now is not accountable to the people. [It] is accountable to His Majesty the King. When he wants he will not open the House of Assembly. This is not democracy," said Masuku. "We must go to the roots and have a government of the people. There is only one democracy [and] that is the government of the people by the people."
Masuku says opposition groups want solidarity from the international community to support their struggle for their rights of speech and assembly in a new democratic dispensation devoid of intimidation and harassment.