Swaziland: eSwatini Defends Police Crackdown On Protesters, Denies Deaths

King Mswati III of eSwatini (file photo).

The eSwatini government on Friday defended a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters even as acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku denied reports of deaths from the brutal force.

In a statement on Friday, Masuku suggested the protesters had descended into "criminality", arguing they had looted and damaged property, which according to him was no longer within the rights to picket.

He said his office was yet to receive official reports about alleged deaths due to the riots, insisting the army was only called in to protect critical national infrastructure.

A government crackdown on pro-democracy protests in eSwatini, has killed dozens after soldiers fired live rounds at protesters, according to lobbies in the country.

King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, has deployed the army in recent days as the landlocked kingdom of 1.2 million people is swamped with demonstrations by people demanding civil and political liberties.

They have asked for a Prime Minister they can elect. As it is today, King Mswati III retains absolute authority over his government, and appoints and fires judges, ministers and even the Prime Minister and senior civil servants.

Political parties were banned in 1973 and citizens had been using petitions to file grievances. Last month, the government controversially banned those petitions.

"No martial law"

Mr Masuku said the government will investigate the allegations.

"The government has tightened security to reclaim the rule of law, peace and to protect all emaSwati. We will continue not to tolerate looting, arson, violence and all other forms of criminality that are directed at business and people's property," he said.

"We have had to call in the army to protect critical national infrastructure and enforce covid-19 regulations. No martial law has been declared."

He added that the government was highly concerned about the events in the country in the past few days.

"While we continue to advocate and promote the full expression of all constitutional and human rights, including the right to protest, we cannot condone attacks on emaSwati and their property," he said.

"The current riots are also a violation of Covid-19 regulations in place to save lives. The riots have degenerated into criminality and are infringing on many basic and social rights of emaSwatwi, including but not limited to food security, safety, health care and business."

Neighbouring South Africa on Thursday called for "total restraint" by the security forces, saying it was concerned about reported loss of life and destruction of property.

African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, also raised concerns about violence and looting, asking authorities to stick to the law and address all concerns raised.

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