Swaziland Continues Crackdown Ahead of Elections
In the latest act of increasing state repression, Swazi police rounded up and detained the five leaders of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) without any legal basis or court order supporting their actions. Freedom House calls once again on the government of the Kingdom of Swaziland to end these attacks on the constitutional rights of its citizens and to allow civil society groups to associate and assemble peacefully.
On the morning of May 1, as TUCOSWA’s leaders were preparing for the annual celebration of workers’ rights at a public May Day event, their president, secretary general, and three other officers were arrested, detained and later and forced to return to their homes and remain there under house arrest. Police confirmed that they had no court order and had received instructions from ‘authorities of the country’ to carry out the arrests. Police also arrested the president of banned political party the Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) when he refused to be confined in his house. The May Day celebration in Manzini was shut down by police, and people carrying TUCOSWA banners were arrested. These house arrests reflect continued tensions between the regime of King Mswati III and TUCOSWA, who has been one of the most vocal critics of government mishandling of the economic crisis in Swaziland.
These actions are also yet another sign that the government of Swaziland is determined to extinguish any independent opposition voices ahead of elections in September 2013. The government has broken up several peaceful civil society meetings this year, detained and tortured youth activists, and in late March the high court slapped a prominent editor with a two-year custodial sentence for ‘scandalizing the courts’. Political parties are banned in Swaziland and they will not be able to participate in this year’s elections. Political expression in the kingdom is often expressed through civil society and the trade union movement, who have also become targets of government attack. TUCOSWA itself was deregistered on a technicality by the government, leaving Swaziland without a formal structure to represent labor, a clear violation of its commitments under International Labor Organization (ILO) treaties.
Freedom in the World 2012: Swaziland
Freedom of the Press 2012: Swaziland