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Amnesty International Report 1997 - Swaziland

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Swaziland, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa0244.html [accessed 2 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Dozens of prisoners of conscience were detained for short periods. There were allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in police custody. A 15-year-old girl was killed and dozens of others injured when police shot at unarmed demonstrators. Three people remained under sentence of death. There were no executions.

Political activity continued to be banned and the rights of freedom of assembly and expression restricted, despite frequent public protests by organizations, including the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and the opposition Swaziland Democratic Alliance, a week-long national strike in January and some moves by King Mswati III and his advisers towards establishing a constitutional reform process.

In July, the King established a 30-person Constitutional Review Commission to draw up a new Constitution within two years. Swaziland's Constitution was suspended in 1973 when the current state of emergency was imposed. The Commission was given powers to fine and imprison for up to five years those who "belittle" or "insult" the Commission. Opposition group members appointed to the Commission threatened to withdraw in protest at the restricted nature of public participation in the process.

The Prime Minister, Prince Mbilini, was dismissed in the first half of the year and replaced by the former Finance Minister, Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini.

Dozens of trade unionists, political activists, students and street vendors were detained for short periods for alleged participation in illegal strikes, demonstrations and meetings. Most were released without charge, but some were charged with public order offences. Many were prisoners of conscience. In one case, during the national strike in January, the police detained for four days Richard Nxumalo, Jan Sithole and Jabulani Nxumalo, the SFTU President, Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General, respectively, actively concealing their whereabouts and misleading their lawyers. The Director of Public Prosecutions and a local magistrate connived with the police in holding a secret remand hearing, during which the detainees were denied bail. However, on 25 January, the detainees' lawyers secured a High Court ruling declaring the detentions illegal and ordering the men's release. Shortly after, the government removed the presiding judge from his position as Acting Chief Justice. The trade unionists were later rearrested and appeared in court in March, charged with offences under the Industrial Relations Amendment Act, which had been promulgated by the government on the eve of the national strike. Despite evidence that the law was invalid, the three men, who had been released on bail, were still facing the charges at the end of the year.

Detainees were reportedly tortured and ill-treated by police. In one case, on 5 October, police allegedly tear-gassed, shot at, kicked and beat with batons and fists 18 regional executive members of the Swaziland Association of Students – none of them more than 18 years old – detained when they attempted to deliver a petition to the Big Bend police station concerning the detention without charge or trial of fellow students. All were released without charge 24 hours later. A number of the students were later rearrested and detained for up to four days at Lobamba police station, where they were further assaulted and tortured. Although most were again released without charge, at least one student had been charged, but not brought to trial, by the end of the year.

Police used tear-gas, batons, sjamboks (whips) and live ammunition to disperse unarmed demonstrators, striking workers and participants in banned political gatherings, some of whom required hospitalization for gunshot and other injuries. In January, during a police operation to suppress the national strike, police shot and killed a 15-year-old girl. In August, police reportedly shot at and beat participants at a People's United Democratic Movement rally after they had complied with the police order to disperse. The authorities ordered only internal police inquiries into these incidents.

Criminal suspects were also subjected to torture. In several criminal cases, magistrates ordered that the accused be taken from court to hospital to be treated for injuries inflicted by the police. In one case, the presiding High Court judge expressed concern that the police appeared to routinely rely on torture as a means of investigating criminal cases.

Three people remained under sentence of death with appeals pending at the end of the year. In April, the Appeal Court had ordered the retrial of one of them because of irregularities in his trial. He was retried in the High Court on the same charges and again sentenced to death in October. There were no executions.

Amnesty International appealed to the government to release all prisoners of conscience. The organization expressed concern about the pattern of detention, ill-treatment and harassment of government opponents and called for the rights of freedom of expression and association to be fully respected.

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