Johannesburg — Ahead of Eswatini’s 55th Independence Day on 6 September, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Eswatini rights organisation Foundation for Socio Economic Justice (FSEJ) call on the country’s authorities to immediately release from prison pro-democracy activists Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube.
“As Eswatini celebrates the anniversary of its freedom from colonial rule, the authorities must free jailed activists Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube without delay,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer. “Mabuza and Dube never should have been arrested in the first place, and should not spend one more minute behind bars.”
Mabuza and Dube face up to 20 years imprisonment after a flawed conviction on trumped-up charges. CIVICUS and FSEJ recognise both men as part of the Stand As My Witness campaign, which advocates for the release of jailed activists and human rights defenders worldwide.
Police arrested Mabuza and Dube, both members of parliament, on 25 July 2021 amid a sweeping and violent crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy and anti-police protests. The protests erupted after the death of 25-year-old law student Thabani Nkomonye, allegedly at the hands of police. On 1 June 2023, almost two years after Mabuza and Dube’s arrests, an Eswatini court convicted them of terrorism, sedition and murder. A sentencing date has not been announced. CIVICUS rejects the verdicts as baseless and aimed at stifling dissent.
“It is extremely worrying that the Eswatini government continues to silence activists and human rights defenders through the use of the judicial system,” said FSEJ Executive Director Thabo Masuku. “The judiciary should independently uphold the values of justice and equity—not harass and intimidate pro-democracy activists like Mabuza and Dube.”
Mabuza and Dube’s imprisonment is part of a sharp downturn in rights in Africa’s last absolute monarchy. Serious violations have rocked the kingdom in recent years, including the brutal murder of activist and lawyer Thulani Maseko on 21 January 2023. Activists have also been targeted with arrests, abductions, torture and arson attacks. CIVICUS Monitor , which assesses civic space worldwide, rates Eswatini as “repressed,” one step above the lowest rank “closed.”
“The Eswatini authorities must respect their constitutional and international human rights obligations,” said Masuku. “They can start by freeing Mabuza and Dube immediately.”
CIVICUS is the global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. A worldwide community of informed, inspired, committed citizens engaged in confronting the challenges facing humanity. We were established in 1993 and since 2002 have been proudly headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, with additional hubs across the globe. We are a membership alliance with more than 15,000 members in more than 175 countries.
The Foundation for Socio Economic Justice (FSEJ) is a grass root socio-economic justice movement fighting poverty, inequality and underdevelopment.