29 June 2018

Swaziland: Police Fire Stun Grenades At Protest

Four protesters were injured on Friday (29 June 2018) in Swaziland when police opened fire with rubber bullets and stun grenades during a workers' protest against government policies, international news agencies reported.

AFP reported, 'Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at about 500 protesters, as well as using water cannon and wielding batons, as demonstrators threw stones at officers.' Reuters put the number of protestors at 2,000.

It happened in Mbabane, the kingdom's capital.

Reuters reported they marched against poor service delivery, alleged misuse of state pension funds and a proposed law to charge citizens who marry foreigners.

AFP reported, 'The demonstration organised by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland was over accusations that millions of dollars have been removed from the national pension fund by the government of King Mswati III, one of the world's few absolute monarchs.

'Parliament instituted the probe into the alleged scandal, but it was later halted.'

AFP reported trade union leader Bheki Mamba told protestors, 'We were marching peacefully until this unfortunate incident by police.

'The injured comrades have been rushed to hospital. We assured the police that we are not confrontational.'

Freedom of speech and assembly are severely curtailed in Swaziland. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and King Mswati chooses the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers. Advocates for multiparty democracy have been arrested under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Meetings on all topics are routinely banned in Swaziland and the kingdom's police and security forces have been criticised by international observers.

In September 2017, police stopped a pro-democracy meeting taking place, saying they had not given organisers permission to meet. It happened during a Global Week of Action for democracy in the kingdom. About 100 people reportedly intended to meet at the Mater Dolorosa School (MDS) in Mbabane.

In 2013, after police broke up a meeting to discuss the pending election, the meeting's joint organisers, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) said Swaziland no longer had a national police service, but instead had 'a private militia with no other purpose but to serve the unjust, dictatorial, unSwazi and ungodly, semi-feudal royal Tinkhundla system of misrule'.

In April 2015, a planned rally to mark the anniversary of the royal decree that turned Swaziland from a democracy to a kingdom ruled by an autocratic monarch was abandoned amid fears that police would attack participants. In February and March, large numbers of police disbanded meetings of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), injuring at least one union leader.

In 2014, police illegally abducted prodemocracy leaders and drove them up to 30 kilometres away, and dumped them to prevent them taking part in a meeting calling for freedom in the kingdom. Police staged roadblocks on all major roads leading to Swaziland's main commercial city, Manzini, where protests were to be held. They also physically blocked halls to prevent meetings taking place. Earlier in the day police had announced on state radio that meetings would not be allowed to take place.

In 2012, four days of public protest were planned by trade unions and other prodemocracy organisations. They were brutally suppressed by police and state forces and had to be abandoned.

In 2013, just before the national election in Swaziland, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported that Swaziland was becoming a police and military state. It said things had become so bad that police were unable to accept that peaceful political and social dissent was a vital element of a healthy democratic process, and should not be viewed as a crime.

These complaints were made by OSISA at an African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia in 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 [in 2013].'

Swaziland is due to hold its next election in September 2018.

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