Swaziland Police Fire Teargas to Break Up Coronavirus Prayer Meeting

Police in Swaziland (eSwatini) fired teargas to break up a group of people who were praying for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

People were also beaten by police officers when they questioned if the they had a court order to disperse them.

It happened at Mphundle in Siteki, the Times of eSwatini reported. Pastor Aaron Ngwenya, who was leading the service, told the newspaper they were praying at a neighbourhood care point. There were fewer than 100 people present so they were not breaking regulations against gatherings during the present partial lockdown in the kingdom. They were all wearing facemasks, he said.

The Times reported, 'Ngwenya said while they waited for more people to come, a group of about 10 police officers, who were armed with batons and other weapons, appeared and questioned them about their gathering.

'He said as the congregants attempted to respond, the police ordered them to leave the premises but as they attempted to plead with them, the law enforcers allegedly started kicking a faction of the congregants in an attempt to drive them out of the neighbourhood care point premises. He claimed that other congregants were assaulted with batons.'

The newspaper quoted him saying, 'The police officers claimed that they were sent by higher authorities to disperse the gathering, something which shocked us as we know that the country's leaders had requested the nation to pray for the coronavirus pandemic to come to an end, which is exactly what we were doing.'

The Times added, 'This resulted in commotion and that is when the police are said to have thrown teargas canisters to disperse the crowd.'

Elsewhere, 67 people, including businesspeople, were arrested on Wednesday (12 August 2020) as the Manzini Disaster Management Task Team cracked down on traders who were not complying with the coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines.

The Times reported most of the people were running their businesses with trading licences that had expired; some were using unapproved sanitisers, and others failed to wear their facemasks properly. Chief Police Information and Communications Officer Superintendent Phindile Vilakati said a total of 67 people were arrested and most of them paid fines ranging between E60 and E120. However, she mentioned that some paid E500, while others paid E800 as fines for failing to comply with the guidelines.

The previous weekend the task team arrested 39 people for being drunk or selling alcoholic beverages at Mangwaneni, a township, about four kilometres from Manzini.

The death toll from coronavirus continues to rise in Swaziland. As of Thursday (13 August 2020) it stood at 63, up 20 from the beginning of August. A total of 3,525 people have tested positive since the crisis started. Of these 1,910 have recovered.

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