WASHINGTON: In response to the arrest of Colani Maseko, President of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), and the abduction and assault of SNUS student activist Sakhile Nxumalo, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Eswatini authorities continue to relentlessly persecute political and student activists and civil society members in their bid to hinder constitutional and democratic reforms in the country,” said Tiseke Kasambala, chief of party for Freedom House’s Advancing Rights in Southern Africa program. “The Eswatini monarchy has repeatedly ignored calls by its citizens and the regional leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to engage in a national dialogue to address the growing crisis and respect democratic freedoms. Instead, the authorities have doubled down and further restricted citizens’ rights. The SADC and the rest of the international community should condemn the ongoing crackdown against civil liberties in the strongest terms, and the Eswatini authorities should release all activists facing trumped up charges.”
On January 31, 2022, more than 10 police officers arrested Colani Maseko on his way to the university where he studies in the city of Manzini. He has been charged with sedition and malicious damage to property and remains in custody. On February 1, police officers reportedly grabbed another student activist, Sakhile Nxumalo, at the Riverstone Shopping Mall and took him to the Riverstone Police Post. Nxumalo reported that the police officers assaulted and tasered him. He was later released without charge and admitted for treatment at a clinic in Manzini.
Eswatini is an absolute monarchy ruled by King Mswati III, who has led the country for over 30 years. Political parties are not legally recognized and are banned from contesting elections. The kingdom has experienced regular bouts of protest and unrest for well over a decade.
In June 2021, unprecedented protests took place throughout the country, as thousands of citizens took to the streets demanding political changes and an end to police brutality. In response, the army shot and killed at least 60 protesters, injured scores more, and banned protests. During further protests in October, security forces reportedly killed at least one person, and injured over 80 people.
Members of Parliament Mthandeni Dube and Bacede Mabuza, who were arrested in July 2021 after calling for political reforms, face charges of terrorism and breaching COVID-19 regulations. They remain in custody and their trial has been postponed several times. A third parliamentarian, Mduduzi Magawugawu Simelane, remains in hiding after an arrest warrant was issued against him.