(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

Prisoners of conscience were arbitrarily detained. Law enforcement officers ill-treated detainees and unarmed demonstrators. Eight prisoners remained under sentence of death. Political activity continued to be banned and the rights of freedom of assembly and expression were restricted. A number of demonstrations and strikes took place, including a month-long national strike in February, in protest at these restrictions. The Constitutional Review Commission appointed by King Mswati iii in 1996 had produced few results by the end of the year, and the state of emergency imposed in 1973 remained in force. In November the Minister of Information and Broadcasting introduced a bill in parliament which would permit the imprisonment of journalists for violations of a government-drafted code of ethics. Prisoners of conscience were arbitrarily detained. They included senior Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (sftu) officials Jabulani Nxumalo, Richard Nxumalo, Jan Sithole (see Amnesty International Report 1997) and Themba Msibi, who were detained on 31 January, prior to the planned national strike. On 3 February they were charged under Section 12 of the 1963 Public Order Act with acting in common purpose to "intimidate" and "molest" bus owners into suspending bus services. Bail was denied as the Minister of Justice had, on the day of their arrest, announced that their offence fell within the scope of the Non-Bailable Offences Act. On 26 February the trial magistrate acquitted the trade unionists of the charges and ordered their release, after strongly criticizing the police evidence as lacking any credibility In another incident, police officers detained Simon Noge, Secretary of the Human Rights Association of Swaziland and Chairperson of the Swaziland Democratic Alliance, on 5 February. When his lawyer challenged the legality of the police officers' action, they threatened to arrest him too. Simon Noge was released without charge the following day. In October police officers who dispersed a peaceful demonstration by striking teachers and their supporters reportedly detained several hundred demonstrators for several hours before releasing them without charge. Some detainees were ill-treated by police officers. In one case Mxolisi Mbatha, an sftu official arrested with other trade union colleagues on 3 February, was kicked, beaten and dragged across the ground before being put in a cell with other detainees at Manzini Regional Police Headquarters. The police then allegedly sprayed tear-gas into the cell. Mxolisi Mbatha, who is paraplegic as a result of a previous accident, was denied access to medical care while in detention. Following his release without charge some two days later, he required emergency and then prolonged treatment in hospital. He instituted legal proceedings against the government, who denied liability. The case was expected to reach the courts in 1998. On a number of occasions the security forces ill-treated unarmed demonstrators and striking workers. In a case in October, police officers used tear-gas and batons to disperse peaceful demonstrators who had gathered near the national airport to petition the King on his return to the country. Among those ill-treated was a schoolteacher who ran into a police patrol while trying to escape the tear-gas. They al- legedly verbally insulted her, beat her severely and smashed her glasses. When she fled she was set upon by soldiers, who allegedly beat her and threw her into a ditch. Legal proceedings instituted against the government on her behalf were under way at the end of the year. Eight prisoners remained under sentence of death, of whom four had appeals pending before the appeal court. The other four had exhausted all channels of appeal except clemency appeals to the King. No new death sentences were imposed and there were no executions. However, the possibility of renewed executions had been raised by the Minister of Justice. An Amnesty International representative visited the country in February to investigate reports of ill-treatment in police custody and other concerns. The organization called on the government to release prisoners of conscience; expressed concern about the misuse of laws to harass, detain and ill-treat government opponents and critics; and called for the rights of freedom of expression and association to be fully respected.

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