Political activity continued to be banned and the rights of freedom of assembly and expression restricted under the terms of the King's Proclamation of 1973. A number of demonstrations took place in protest at these restrictions. Opposition organizations petitioned the King in August and in October to repeal the proclamation, dismantle the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and suspend national elections scheduled for October. The CRC, appointed by King Mswati III in 1996 for two years, had still not concluded its work by the end of the year. Parliamentary elections were held in October; about 30 per cent of those eligible voted and a new cabinet of ministers was sworn in during November.
On 20 November a security guard was killed and seven others injured when a bomb exploded at the office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The governments of the USA and South Africa sent experts to investigate the cause of the explosion.
Two days before the elections, soldiers and armed police raided the homes of officials of the opposition Swaziland Democratic Alliance, searching for materials calling for a boycott of the elections. Those harassed included the President of the People's United Democratic Union (PUDEMO), Mario Masuku, the President of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), Bongani Masuku, and a senior official of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), Zodwa Mkhonta.
In November there were further raids on the homes and offices of officials from SWAYOCO, PUDEMO and the SFTU, and the home of Simon Noge, the treasurer of the Human Rights Association of Swaziland. In the same month many of the same individuals, including the SFTU Secretary General, Jan Sithole, were arrested and interrogated before being released without charge. One SFTU official, Themba Motsa, who was arrested in late November, alleged that police had threatened him with death and assaulted him while interrogating him about the 20 November bomb explosion.
During the October elections, the security forces mounted patrols and roadblocks in urban areas and allegedly ill-treated unarmed youths and others suspected of opposing the elections. In one incident on the night of 16 October police dispersed a group of protesters in Msunduza township, Mbabane. Later police and soldiers arrested members of the group, took them to Mbabane police station where they allegedly beat and kicked them and made them do strenuous exercises. The detainees were released without charge. At least nine required medical treatment. At least three lodged complaints against the police. David Langwenya, a civil servant, was himself severely assaulted when he intervened to try and stop the security forces from beating one of the arrested protesters.
Opposition protests against the elections led in some cases to the prosecution of arrested activists. In October Sandile Phakathi and Bhekani Simelane, members of SWAYOCO, were convicted in the Manzini Magistrate's Court of offences under the Public Order Act in connection with anti-election protests in August and sentenced to two years' imprisonment or a fine. When they appeared in court two days after their arrest they had bruises on their faces, allegedly as a result of beatings by the police, and were denied bail. There were allegations that police interference during the course of the trial undermined the impartiality of the court proceedings. The two men could not pay the fine within the stipulated period, but police did not rearrest them and they remained at liberty at the end of the year.
Eight prisoners remained under sentence of death. At least one new sentence of death was imposed. The Minister of Justice announced in February that he was seeking the appointment of an executioner. The last judicial execution took place in 1983. In September and October, the Appeal Court, composed of South African judges, set aside three death sentences on the grounds that the trial courts had imposed the sentences wrongly.
Amnesty International delegates visited Swaziland in October to investigate reports of ill-treatment in police custody and other concerns. The organization expressed concern to the authorities about the ill-treatment of government opponents by the security forces, and the use of restrictive laws to detain and harass them for political reasons.
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