Swaziland is the last absolute monarchy in Africa. It is currently ruled by King Mswati III.
King Mswati III took the throne after his father’s death in 1982 after an intermediary regency by two of his father’s queens. The King is the head of state, appoints the country's prime ministers, appoints the majority of representatives in both the Senate and House of Assembly in the country's parliament, and approves all legislation.
Though the constitution provides for a separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, under local law and custom, the monarch holds supreme power over the three organs of government. In addition, the new constitution establishes the King as Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Forces and Commissioner of Police.
The political space in Swaziland remains severely limited. Political parties are illegal, having been banned from participating in elections by royal decree in 1973 and fully banned by the constitution, which was promulgated on October 13, 1978.
INSTALLATION OF SENATOR
The King, as a result of a 2011 directive issued by Swaziland’s Chief Justice,, holds legal immunity from any civil law suits, and most legislation passed by the government is highly restrictive towards the civil population. Any defiance or criticism of the royal family is strictly outlawed and anyone caught insulting the King’s name is liable to be punished by imprisonment.
ADMINISTRATIVE CAPITAL: MBABANE
ROYAL AND LEGISLATIVE CAPITAL: LOBAMBA
OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: SWAZI AND ENGLISH
GOVERNMENT: ABSOLUTE MONARCHY
KING: MSWATI III
IN POWER SINCE: 1986
RULING PARTY: IMBOKODVO NATIONAL MOVEMENT (INM)
Freedom of speech, freedom of association, and other human rights are routinely violated in Swaziland
Although Swaziland’s constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination and allows for freedom of association, it also permits the government to restrict or suspend these rights at will. In practice, freedom of assembly is strictly controlled and requires police permission. Peaceful demonstrations are routinely dispersed by the police, with the participants arrested. Additionally, torture by the police is not explicitly prohibited by law. Extrajudicial killings, frequent use of excessive force by the police, arbitrary arrests, and lengthy pretrial detention remain common practice in Swaziland.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
The freedom of speech of any individual or media outlet can be waived by the King at will. Freedom of speech is strictly restricted at all events, especially in relation to any matter concerning politics or the royal family. Anyone who criticizes the King is subject to prosecution. Sedition and defamation laws are regularly used against journalists to severely restrict their work.
In recent years, the government of King Mswati III has further restrained the already weakened media environment in Swaziland. The Sedition and Subversive Activities Act continues to criminalize allegedly seditious publications, increasingly targeting journalists and media outlets. As a result, most media outlets and academics engage in self-censorship to avoid being assaulted, threatened, or arrested.
HRF in Swaziland
In 2014 HRF denounced American singer-songwriter Erykah Badu for performing at the birthday celebration of King Mswati III. Badu partied with the king and presented him with lavish gifts while several political prisoners languished in prison not far from the royal palace.
HRF’s criticism of Badu’s actions led to an international media blitz that brought global attention to the often-overlooked human rights abuses in Swaziland. The campaign was quoted and referenced by over 20 international media outlets and led to Badu canceling a scheduled performance for another authoritarian regime. Badu, described on her Facebook page as a "community activist" and "conscious spirit“, claimed she was not paid by the king and had no idea of the political climate.
In 2015, Thulani Maseko a prominent human rights lawyer in Swaziland, authored a series of articles in The Nation, Swaziland’s only independent newspaper, criticizing the lack of judicial independence in the country. He and The Nation editor Bheki Makhubu were subsequently arrested, arraigned without legal representation, and convicted of contempt of court. In a press release, HRF concluded that these charges violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, both of which have been signed by Swaziland. As part of an international effort to secure Maseko’s release, HRF authored articles in TIME and The Atlantic to spotlight the human rights crimes of the often-overlooked Swazi regime. After more than a year in prison, Maseko and Makhubu’s appeal was granted after the judge who had presided over their original trial, Judge Mpendulo Simelane, was charged with corruption and “defeating the ends of justice.
FREE SPEECH UNLIMITED
Human Rights Foundation, in partnership with John Templeton Foundation and Universidad Francisco Marroquin, provides a resource which outlines access to free speech and details relevant cases.
Thulani Maseko is a prominent human rights lawyer from Swaziland who was imprisoned for 14 months for his criticism of state corruption.
Maseko is a senior member of Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland and the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network. In 2014, Maseko authored a series of articles with editor Bheki Makhubu in The Nation, Swaziland’s only independent newspaper, criticizing the lack of judicial independence in the country. Maseko and Makhubu were subsequently arrested, arraigned without legal representation, and convicted of contempt of court. In August 2014, Maseko wrote a public letter to President Barack Obama asking for his release. After more than a year in prison, Maseko and Makhubu’s appeal was granted after the judge who had presided over their original trial, Judge Mpendulo Simelane, was charged with corruption and “defeating the ends of justice.”
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