Swaziland: Teacher Held By Swaziland Police As Free Speech Clampdown Intensifies

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A teacher was arrested and threatened by Swaziland (eSwatini) police because of comments he made on social media, in the latest in a continuing clampdown on free speech in the kingdom.

Majahembuso Dlamini, 35, a teacher at Nhlangano was arrested by army and para-military police on Saturday morning (2 May 2020). He was taken to the local police station.

In a statement his trade union the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) said they were 'armed to the teeth'. Police had been searching for Dlamini since Thursday when he posted comments on WhatsApp about a road accident that day that claimed the lives of 11 police officers and a truck driver.

SNAT reported Dlamini said that at the police station he was sworn at and threatened. He believed only the unexpected arrival at the station of the Regional Commander saved him. 'I had been told I'll spend the rest of the night in their holding cells where I was to be taught a lesson,' he said.

Majahembuso Dlamini

SNAT officials attended the police station. Secretary-General Sikelela Dlamini said, 'We demanded that they provide evidence to substantiate the essence of their conduct and they failed. We can't have a situation whereby state security agents are a law unto themselves, intimidating our members as they do.'

In its statement SNAT said, 'It is reported that upon releasing him, a word of caution was sent to the teacher by the cops as they intimated that more Swazis are yet to face wrath of the cops.'

Swaziland has seen an unprecedented clampdown on free speech on websites and social media in recent weeks. On Thursday the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Swaziland to 'stop intimidating and harassing local journalists for reporting critically about King Mswati III'. It added they should allow to write freely without the threat of treason charges.

The call came after police raided the home of Eugene Dube, the editor and publisher of the privately-owned news website Swati Newsweek, and seized his three mobile phones, a laptop, and work documents.

Dube was taken to the same police station as Majahembuso Dlamini, Nhlangano, where they interrogated him about articles he published about King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch.

Also, on 24 April 24, a police officer in Matsapha went to the home of Mfomfo Nkhambule, a Swati Newsweek reporter who wrote one of the articles that Dube was questioned about. They took him to a local police station and interrogated him for two hours.

Dube told CPJ that police were unable to find Mthobisi Ntjangase, the reporter who had written the other article about the king.

The journalists said they were questioned about an 8 April opinion piece by Nkhambule, entitled "King Reckless on Swazis' Health," which accused the government of failing to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and an 14 April article by Ntjangase, based on an interview with Ncamiso Ngcamphalala the president of the Economic Freedom Fighters of Swaziland, a new political group, who said that 'removing the king is possible'.

Ngcamphala was himself arrested by Swaziland police on Saturday (2 May 2020), according to reports on social media. At the time of compiling this report no further details were available.

After his release, police warned Dube that their investigation was still ongoing and said they would return if he continued to criticize the king. Dube said that they kept his devices for further investigation.

Police commissioner William Dlamini on 24 April threatened that authorities would come down hard on journalists who wrote negatively about Mswati III and said the law would take its course, the privately-owned weekly publication Independent News reported.

In a statement sent to CPJ, government spokesperson Sabelo Dlamini alleged that Dube operated an unregistered media outlet and denied that the journalists were being persecuted for criticizing the king.

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