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Monday, 30 March 2015

SWAZI KING’S JET HELD FOR UNPAID DEBTS

The private jet of King Mswati III’s of Swaziland has been impounded in Canada after a court attached it for unpaid debts.

The attachment reportedly took place in December 2014, but the fact has only just been made public.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, broke the news on Friday (27 March 2015). It quoted ‘reliable sources, who are very close to the matter but requested not to be identified.’ It reported, ‘The attachment was issued by a court held in camera in Canada, in favour of Shanmuga Rethenam, popularly known as Shan of former Salgaocar company.’

The newspaper added, ‘The source said during the court case, Shan submitted that he was being owed about E35 million (US$3.5 million) by a Swazi Company which is operating the jet on behalf of the Government of Swaziland.’ 

The acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Jabulile Mashwama later confirmed this to the Swazi Parliament. Mashwama said the jet had been taken to Canada for routine maintenance and had expected it to be returned to Swaziland in January 2015.

The jet, an updated Douglas DC-9, has a controversial history. It was reportedly given to the King as a birthday gift in 2012. The King and the Swazi Government refused to disclose who gave the plane, saying they were development partners of Swaziland who wanted to remain anonymous.

At the time it was reported, but neither confirmed nor denied, that the jet was a gift from Salgaocar (now known as SG Iron Ore Mining), a company that had recently been awarded a contract by the King to mine for iron ore at Ngwenya, within a protected area inside the Malolotja Game Reserve. This was despite fears that its work would pollute the water supply of many rural people and also the population of Mbabane, the kingdom’s capital.

The mine was forced to cease trading in August 2014 after a series of events orchestrated by Sihle Dlamini, who is Director Administration at the King’s Office and Assistant Private Secretary to the King. He was also the King’s personal representative on the SG Iron board of directors. 

A compensation claim for at least US$141 million was prepared by Southern Africa Resources Ltd (SARL), which had a 50 percent stake in SG Iron Ore Mining, against the Kingdom of Swaziland at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

See also

HOW SWAZI KING DESTROYED IRON MINE

Friday, 27 March 2015

US STUDENTS BACK JAILED SWAZI WRITER

Journalism students at the University of Maryland in the United States are planning to publicize the jailing of Swaziland journalist Bheki Makhubu by launching a line of bracelets baring his name.

By selling the bracelets they hope to raise money for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a media freedom group.

Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine in Swaziland, is serving a two year jail sentence for contempt of court with fellow writer and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko. The pair were convicted after they wrote and published articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

The imprisonment caused an international outcry and earlier in March 2015 Maseko was put in solitary confinement in prison after a letter he wrote from his jail cell thanking supporters was published on the Internet.

The students hope to produce 10,000 bracelets in a project called Press Uncuffed. Makhubu is one of nine imprisoned journalists from across the world whose name will appear on the bracelets.

See also

JAILED WRITER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
SUPPORT FOR JAILED SWAZI JOURNALISTS
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2015/03/support-for-jailed-swazi-journalists.html

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

EURO MPs: ‘SCRAP SWAZI TRADE DEALS’

Labour Members of the European Parliament are calling on the European Union to re-think its preferential trade agreements with Swaziland because of the kingdom’s poor record on human rights.

This follows news that Swazi human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko has been placed in solitary confinement in jail after a letter he wrote from his cell was published on the Internet and social media.

Maseko and Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation, monthly magazine in Swaziland, are serving two years in prison after writing and publishing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary.

In a statement the European Parliamentary Labour Party said the EU must act ‘against intolerable human rights abuses in Swaziland’.

It said, ‘The situation of Swazi trade unionists and human rights activists has been deteriorating in recent years and was further worsened by the decision of the government to ban all workers’ and employers' federations in October 2014.’

Richard Howitt MEP, Labour's European spokesperson on human rights, said, ‘The deeply worrying and deplorable human rights abuses in Swaziland documented by the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights should be a wakeup call to the EU. Countries in receipt of EU trade preferences, such as Swaziland, must understand the sacredness of human rights and free speech.

‘As such, the EU must act as the confident and reforming voice that it is and not turn a blind eye on trade to those who turn a blind eye on human rights.’

David Martin MEP, Socialists and Democrats Group spokesperson on international trade, said, ‘Human rights and labour rights should be at the heart of EU external policy including trade.’

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP, member of the European Parliament international trade committee, said, ‘The EU grants trade preferences to countries like Swaziland in order to incentivise governments to deliver human and labour rights.

‘What this latest abuse in Swaziland shows is that this policy of incentives has failed. If the EU want to be serious about human rights, it is high time we get serious about our criteria for granting trade preferences.’

Swaziland has already lost preferential trade tariffs with the United States under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) because of its refusal to embrace democratic reforms.

King Mswati III, rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and all groups advocating for multiparty democracy in the kingdom have been banned as ‘terrorists’ under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. King Mswati appoints all members of the government and the judiciary.

See also

JAILED WRITER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
SUPPORT FOR JAILED SWAZI JOURNALISTS

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

SWAZI GOVT SNUBS 'STARVED REFUGEES'

The Swazi Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze has said Somali asylum seekers living in the kingdom who complained that they were being starved and forced to work in fields without pay were lucky they had not been deported.

The Somalis were also reported to be eating grass and tree leaves as they said they were not given anything to eat at the Malindza Refugee Camp.

The Somalis became so desperate that in January 2015, they attempted to walk the 3,800 km from Swaziland back to their war-torn country of Somalia. They were unable to cross the Swaziland / Mozambique border because they did not have travel documents.

Now, seven refugees have set up camp outside Ludzidzini, one of King Mswati III’s 13 royal palaces. The Times of Swaziland newspaper reported they might be seeking Swazi citizenship. 

In January 2015, the Swazi Observer newspaper reported the Somalis had asked the Swazi Ministry of Home Affairs to assist them to return to their homes in Somalia, ‘stating that they could not take any more of the hardship they faced at the camp’. 

Mowlid Omer Warsame, one of the refugees, was reported saying the living conditions in Swaziland were so unbearable ‘they found it better to go and die in the warfront in their home country than in a foreign land’.

On Monday (24 March 2015), Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze told the Swaziland Senate that refugees should respect the laws of Swaziland.

The Swazi Observer reported him saying if government was so harsh on the Somali nationals they would have been deported by now

Monday, 23 March 2015

‘NATION’ DEFIANT ON JAILED JOURNALISTS

As Swaziland editor Bheki Makhubu and writer and human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, marked a year spent in jail for writing and publishing articles critical of the Swaziland judiciary, the Nation, the monthly magazine they worked for remained defiant.

In an editorial comment in the March 2015 edition, the Nation stated, ‘This edition marks the first anniversary since the editor of this magazine, Bheki Makhubu, was put behind bars following contempt of court charges the Chief Justice, Michael Ramodibedi, preferred against him. 

‘Together with our columnist and human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, Makhubu is serving a two-year sentence following his conviction on July 27 [2014] after he was arrested on March 18. Maseko was arrested a day earlier. 

‘What we find interesting is that the constitution, which King Mswati III said the nation should defend, has failed to protect the duo.’ It added, ‘They are persecuted for merely exercising their rights as provided in the very same constitution the nation was called upon to uphold. However, this will not deter this magazine from doing what it has always promised its readers; speaking truth to power.

‘The fact that a year later we’re still in circulation despite the challenges resulting from a marathon case that saw the imprisonment of our colleagues is proof that we have earned our credibility. It’s a pity that, as demonstrated during the trial, some people lost their credibility as they were trying to do their master’s bidding.

‘The Nation chooses to remain loyal to the truth, and nothing else. That’s why we’ll remain standing for many more years to come, jail or no jail.’

The defiant message came as news leaked from Big Bend Prison, Lubombo, that Maseko had been placed in solitary confinement for three weeks as a punishment after a letter he wrote from his cell was widely circulated on the Internet and social media.

In the letter Maseko thanked the thousands of people all over the world who have spoken out against his jailing.

The latest move has been condemned around the world. Among the most recent groups to speak out was the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). It said the United Nations General Assembly called solitary punishment ‘cruel and degrading treatment’. 

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, SALC’s executive director, said in a statement, the Swazi Constitution provided that ‘a person shall not be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,’ and Swaziland was a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibited the use of torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

The Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) asked for the release of the two writers. Mohamed Garba President of FAJ, said, ‘The King Mswati III of Swaziland should order the release of both the journalist and his lawyer after one year in prison.’

Garba added, ‘FAJ is raising serious concerns on the permanent attempts by the Kingdom of the Swazi authorities to muzzle all freedoms.’

FAJ added in a statement, ‘The Kingdom of Swaziland has been portrayed as one of the most repressive regimes in Africa and freedom of expression and freedom of association have been under siege since time immemorial.’

See also

JAILED WRITER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
 
SUPPORT FOR JAILED SWAZI JOURNALISTS
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2015/03/support-for-jailed-swazi-journalists.html

LESBIAN AND GAY MURDERS IN SWAZILAND

The separate murders of a lesbian woman and a gay man in Nhlangano, Swaziland, have drawn attention to the prejudice faced by homosexuals in the kingdom.

On 15 March 2015, Kaylo Glover, aged 26, was killed with an axe by a man in a bar because she was lesbian, the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) group Iranti-org reported. A few months earlier a gay man known as Themba was also murdered in Nhlangano.

Jabu Pereira, the director of Iranti-org, which documents human-rights violations and advocates for the rights of lesbians and transgender people in Africa, reported Glover was killed by an enraged man who did not want to be in the presence of lesbians. 

Pereira reported, ‘He left the bar, fetched an axe from his car, returned and killed Kaylo. Kaylo was rushed to hospital and her killers followed them to the hospital and chased her friends with [an] axe. 


Kaylo’s friend ran as she heard one of the guys shout “let’s finish off these dogs”. Neither the nurses nor the doctors could reach Kaylo in time, she bled to death.’

Pereira said, ‘It seems Kaylo’s death has broken the silence around hate crimes in Swaziland. It is bringing attention to the poor human-rights situation in this country, where the monarch is so incredibly rich and its citizens are poor and where LGBTI persons live hidden, framed as “the other”.’

Swaziland has a poor history supporting LGBTI rights. In November 2011, Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, the Acting Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said Swaziland would not give human rights to gay people, because they did not exist in the kingdom. 

Gamedze was responding to criticism of Swaziland by a United Nations working group on human rights that said the kingdom should enact equality laws for LGBTI people.

Earlier, Gamedze had lied to the United Nations when he said that gays and lesbians in the kingdom had not asked for repressive laws to be overturned. 

The official summary of working party of the Universal Periodical Review of human rights in Swaziland held on 4 October 2011 stated, ‘Mr Gamedze specifically addressed the issues of same-sex relationships and the death penalty [two separate issues]. He noted that while consensual same-sex relations are illegal in Swaziland, the Government does not pursue prosecutions. He also claimed that so far the LGBTI movement in Swaziland had not challenged these policies and clarified that the Government would only look into these issues if and when this happened.’

In fact, an organisation called HOOP (House of Our Pride) had submitted a report to the same UN inquiry that Gamedze was responding to. It listed a range of discriminations that LGBTI people in Swaziland suffered, including in faith groups, at work and through police harassment. 

In a list of recommendations to the government, HOOP included:

‘LGBTI activities should be decriminalized and given due recognition in the society.

‘The government of Swaziland should bring into place laws that protect LGBTI people’s rights at workplaces, social, faith and community gatherings and also protect their right to inherit their partner’s belonging, if willed to them on their partner’s passing away. The above law should be strictly enforced and culprits severely punished.’

In its report HOOP said, ‘It is a common scene for LGBTI to be verbally insulted by by-passers in public places. [There is] defamatory name calling and people yelling out to see a LGBTI person’s reproductive part are some of the issues facing LGBTI in Swaziland.’

‘Faith houses have been known to discriminate against LGBTI, advocating for the alienation of LGBTI in the family and society, while maintaining that these LGBTI are possessed by demons.’

In one of the first reports of its kind detailing sexual orientation discrimination in Swaziland, HOOP revealed, ‘LGBTI are hugely discriminated against in the community, as they are not recognized at community meetings and their points are often not minuted at these meetings nor are they allowed to take part in community services.’

Police often ridiculed LGBTI people if they report they have been victims of violent crime, Hoop reported.

Local communities in Swaziland also discriminate against LGBTI people. In October 2013, it was reported that community police banished two men from Lubombo because they were gay.

The Swazi News reported at the time, ‘A meeting was convened where the boys were called to explain their lifestyle. They confirmed that they were gay and that is when they were ordered to immediately leave the area.’
See also
           
SWAZI MINISTER LIES TO UN ON GAYS
GAY PREJUDICE RIFE IN SWAZILAND
SWAZILAND HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT
COMMUNITY POLICE BANISH GAY MEN
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2010/01/press-vilified-over-lesbians-death.html

UK CONCERN OVER JAILED JOURNALISTS

The United Kingdom Government has expressed its concern that two journalists are in prison in Swaziland for writing and publishing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary.

It is also unhappy that Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and Maxwell Dlamini, from the Swaziland Youth Congress, were also arrested in May 2014 for allegedly seditious comments contravening controversial terrorism legislation and remain in prison awaiting trial.

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office in its 2014 Human Rights and Democracy Report on Swaziland, recently published, said, ‘According to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, political participation in Swaziland is amongst the worst in Africa. Swaziland ranks 50 out of 52 countries on this indicator for 2014. 

‘This year [2014] saw a number of worrying developments that further constrained the ability of people to engage in politics, in particular to exercise their rights of freedom of expression and assembly. Swaziland dropped to 156 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. 

‘High-profile examples included the sentencing of journalist Bheki Makhubu and lawyer Thulani Maseko to two years in prison after writing an article criticising Swaziland’s judiciary. Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and Maxwell Dlamini, from the Swaziland Youth Congress, were also arrested in May for allegedly seditious comments contravening controversial terrorism legislation. 

‘The UK raised concerns about these cases, and the broader human rights environment, with the Swazi authorities throughout 2014, including alongside other EU [European Union] member states at the EU-Swaziland “Political Dialogue” on 3 October. We remain concerned that there has been no progress on these cases.

‘At the end of 2014, the US withdrew preferential access to the US market for Swazi exports, having placed five conditions, relating to freedom of expression and assembly. An amendment to the Industrial Relations Act in November had addressed two of these conditions, permitting the registration of federations such as the Trade Union Federation, but did not address other areas. Failure to take the necessary steps threatens an estimated 13,000 jobs in Swaziland’s textile industry, damaging an already vulnerable economy.

‘More broadly, there are long-running, institutionalised constraints on political participation. 

‘We continue to be concerned that the Tinkhundlha electoral system was used in the 2013 elections. It allows only individuals (not political parties) to participate, and is widely seen as failing to meet international standards. The concentration of power around the monarchy also limits political participation.’

In Swaziland, King Mswati III, rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and all groups advocating multi-party democracy have been banned as terrorist groups under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The UK report continued, ‘The King has a direct say in the composition of the judiciary, parliament and government, as well as the succession of traditional chiefs who wield considerable power at a local level. Parallel customary and judicial court structures cloud accountability and access to justice. 

‘Political space for civil society is restricted, and its capacity to hold the government to account is limited. Gender inequalities also act as barriers to entry for women in the political sphere. Women face unequal social, economic, legal, political and cultural treatment. Some laws still treat women as minors and second-class citizens, despite the 2005 Constitution’s Bill of Rights declaring that women should be free from any form of discrimination or abuse. Legislation to help make this a reality continues to be delayed.

‘Alongside the resident EU and US missions to Swaziland and other international partners, the UK has consistently urged the Swazi government to implement democratic reform and to open up political space. The UK contributes to EU programmes to raise the capacity of civil society and promote advocacy at a grassroots level to encourage greater political engagement. 

‘The UK will continue to pursue this agenda in 2015, including working with the Southern African Development Community and the Commonwealth through its Special Envoy to Swaziland, former Malawian President Bakili Muluzi.’

Sunday, 22 March 2015

POLICE ATTACK ANOTHER UNION MEETING



Police in Swaziland have broken up two meetings of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) in as many weeks in a clampdown on groups advocating for democracy.

More than 300 plain-clothed police forced participants to end a union executive board meeting in the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Center on 14 March 2014 and blocked the gates to the building. Muzi Mhlanga, SNAT secretary general, was assaulted and had to seek medical care, according to TUCOSWA.

TUCOSWA Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane said, ‘The police came in as if they were coming to fight an army. They actually manhandled us, stopping anyone coming in or going out of the venue.’

Ncongwane added, ‘We were squashed between various policemen who were trying to read the emails we were sending [to international labour allies]. Police also demanded their phones because union leaders were taking photos of the police “without their permission. They said their orders are to crush any TUCOSWA meeting.’

Swaziland police also broke up a national union meeting on 28 February, on the grounds that workers were discussing ‘democracy’.

The Solidarity Center reported, ‘Over the past three years, Swaziland authorities have refused to grant legal registration to TUCOSWA, most recently denying the federation’s December 2014 application under the country’s recently amended Industrial Relations Act. In August 2014, some in the Swazi government falsely accused Ncongwane and human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze of taking a stand against trade benefits for Swaziland when they were in Washington to attend the US Africa Leaders’ Summit Civil Society Forum.

The Solidarity Center said, ‘TUCOSWA is receiving key support from the country’s religious leaders. A coalition of Christian churches called for the registration and recognition of TUCOSWA as part of its broader call for multiparty democracy to address the Swaziland’s political, social and economic crises.

‘In June 2014 the US government took the rare step of suspending African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade benefits for Swaziland, citing the Swazi government’s systematic violations of fundamental worker rights, including refusal to legally recognize TUCOSWA. Swaziland’s trade unions support AGOA, but maintain that the country must meet benchmarks of the agreement, which include respecting human rights and labour rights.

‘The 2014 US State Department human rights report cited serious human rights violations in Swaziland, including arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; severely restricted freedom of assembly, including violence against protestors; jailing of trade union leaders; the deregistration of TUCOSWA and the banning of strikes.’

See also

SWAZI POLICE HALT DEMOCRACY MEETING

Friday, 20 March 2015

JAILED WRITER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Thulani Maseko, the human rights lawyer and journalist, has been moved to solitary confinement in prison as punishment for writing a letter thanking his supporters. One leading rights organisation has said this could be considered ‘torture’.

Maseko, with Bhekhi Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine, have been in jail for a year after writing and publishing articles in the Nation that were critical of the judiciary in Swaziland.

The pair were at first remanded in custody and then in July 2014 sentenced to two years imprisonment for contempt of court. The jailing created an international outcry.

The letter which was widely circulated on the Internet and in social media had been distributed by Robert F Kennedy Human Rights in Washington. 

Now, the organisation has reported that following the circulation of the letter Maseko was moved into solitary confinement and denied access to his lawyer and all other visitors.

Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, said in a statement, ‘Authorities are clearly acting in retaliation for Thulani’s prison letter, which merely expressed appreciation to the thousands of people across the world that have stood by him and his family during his incarceration.’

He added, ‘The cruel decision to move Thulani into solitary confinement and deny him visitors is yet another brazen indication that the Swazi regime has no regard for the basic human rights of its people.’

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa. He chooses the government and members of the judiciary. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups campaigning for multi-party democracy in the kingdom have been banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights, said, ‘This week’s decision to move Thulani Maseko to solitary confinement is both dehumanizing and could be considered torture.’

He added, ‘The conditions in Swaziland faced by Thulani Maseko, and other prisoners of conscience like him, of which there are many, are a violation of international law and authorities should address this issue at once.’

See also

SWAZI JOURNALIST’S PRISON LETTER
SUPPORT FOR JAILED SWAZI JOURNALISTS