Activists say detained MPs ​​​in Eswatini ‘must be immediately released and all charges against them dropped’

Eswatini authorities must drop all trumped-up charges against Members of Parliament Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube and ensure they are immediately released, Amnesty International said before the start of their trial on 20 October. The two were detained amid a wave of pro-democracy protests and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and for contravening Covid-19 regulations.

The two MPs have been detained at Mbabane police station since 25 July, about a month after pro-democracy protests began in Eswatini. Since May, over 80 people have been killed by security forces and many others arrested on suspicion of involvement in protests calling for political reforms in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

“The arrest and detention of MPs Mabuza and Dube is a travesty of justice. They have been held for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression and assembly,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“Mabuza and Dube must be immediately and unconditionally released, and the charges against them dropped. The authorities in Eswatini must respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and allow for political activism to take place without fear of reprisals.”

Earlier this month, a protester was left in a critical condition in hospital after being shot in the head by Eswatini security forces outside parliament during protests to deliver a petition to the US embassy. The petition was urging the United States to raise concerns about the MPs’ arrest and detention with the Eswatini authorities. Pro-democracy protests and anti-police violence marches continued across the country last week, resulting in the killing of another protester, Nhlanhla Kunene by security forces in Siteki. This sparked another wave of nationwide protests calling for the release of peaceful protesters, including the two MP’s. More than 1000 people have been arrested, including children in primary and secondary school who have since joined the movement calling for political reforms. In some instances, security forces have also assaulted school children who participated in the protests and have closed down schools.

In a recent speech, King Mswati III said that he was not prepared to negotiate with “dagga smokers” and drunkards, referring to pro-democracy protesters.

As protests continue to intensify, authorities have deployed security forces to crush dissent, closed schools indefinitely and instructed mobile telephone network companies to shut down the internet and social media platforms.

“Closing schools and shutting down the internet are arbitrary acts that are in clear contravention of human rights. Nothing will be resolved by further depriving people of their human rights, including their right to education and to freedom of expression,” said Deprose Muchena.

“Authorities must urgently open dialogue with protesters and stop crushing dissent. They must immediately release all peaceful protesters and those suspected of having organized the protests and those who have been arrested solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. If the authorities have any evidence of protesters who have committed a legitimate recognizable offence, they must ensure they are brought before courts of law in fair trials.”   

MPs Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube were arrested on the evening of 25 July 2021 and have been in detention at Mbabane police station ever since. They face vaguely worded charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. Pro-democracy protests started in June [2021?] in the Kingdom of Eswatini following the mysterious death of 25-year-old law student, Thabani Nkomonye. He allegedly died at the hands of the police.

Since the start of protests demanding political reforms, the government of Eswatini has launched a ruthless crackdown on human rights. Dozens of people have been killed and many others tortured, detained or abducted. Authorities have also ordered internet and telecommunications shutdowns, including by the King’s daughter, Princess Sikhanyiso, on 15 October for two hours to suppress freedom of expression.

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