Media freedom in Esawtini declines further as Swaziland News and its editor are declared terrorists

Freedom of expression in Eswatini continues to decline as Prime Minister Cleopas Sipho Dlamini announced that posting information online Swaziland News and its editor Zweli Dlamini are “terrorists”.

Source: © IOL IOLs eSwatini has recently been rocked by pro-democracy protests which have steadily intensified

Prime Minister Dlamini released the statement in early July in terms of Eswatini’s Terrorism Suppression Act.

Swaziland News

Swaziland News is an independent online newspaper established in 2015 which seeks to provide uncensored insight into what is happening in the Kingdom of Eswatini. The publication is widely followed with over 49,000,000 followers on Twitter and 222,000,000 followers on its Facebook page.

Its editor immediately hit back, saying it was yet another attack on media freedom in Eswatini.

“This statement will not affect the operation of the Swaziland News because it is registered in South Africa and has not been banned in South Africa and the world in general,” says Dlamini.

Fearing for his life, Dlamini fled to South Africa in 2018 due to a series of intimidation and harassment by government authorities and then a ban on Swaziland News under Eswatini’s Books and Journals Registration Act.

After fleeing, he registered and set up his online publication in South Africa and joined the Press Council of SA, a self-regulatory body that monitors media conduct.

“Where there is dictatorship, the media becomes the first victim because the media is the voice of the people. So when dictators want to silence the people, they censor the media because they want to stifle the voice of the people,” says Dlamini.

A reputation for removing rights

Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarch, has a reputation for suppressing the rights to freedom of speech and the press with apparent impunity, although protest actions have increased over the past two years.

In 2014, The nation editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were found in contempt of court for writing articles critical of the regime and the then chief justice .

They were sentenced to two years in prison but were released after 15 months following mounting international pressure.

Pro-democracy demonstrations

In recent months, a large part of Swaziland News’ the content strongly criticized the eSwatini authorities, especially the security forces. Much of the coverage deals with how pro-democracy movements are treated.

“Eswatini is known around the world for its human rights abuses, it is not democratic, it is ruled by an absolute monarch. As the media, we have an obligation to report what is happening on the ground without censoring us,” says Dlamini.

In July 2021, the eruption of violent pro-democracy protests in Eswatini led protesters, including journalists, to face arbitrary arrests, intimidation, torture and the removal of media information as they attempted to report on the ongoing conflict on the ground.

During these events, New frame journalists Magnificent Mndebele and Cebelihle Mbuyisa were abducted, detained and allegedly tortured by the country’s security forces simply for doing their job as journalists.

Continued decline in media freedom

According to the 2022 edition of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, which assesses the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories, Eswatini ranks 131 out of 180 in terms of media freedom.

In March 2021, a communication from Human Rights Watch (HRW) also revealed that eSwatini ranks among the lowest in the world in terms of the level of media freedom in the countries.

While Article 24 of Eswatini’s constitution provides for freedom of expression, journalists are crippled by state interference and harassment.

Although there is a legislative framework to protect media freedom, the opposite is true according to HRW.

Contrary to the Constitution

In a statement, the Campaign for Free Expression (CFE) expressed deep concern over the declaration and called on the government to revoke it.

“This declaration is not only contrary to the Constitution of Eswatini, but also to international instruments to which Eswatini is a party, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Covenant international law on civil and political rights. rights, the AU Media Protocol, the 1991 Windhoek Declaration and the 2021 update, Windhoek +30,” the statement read.

During a recent Universal Periodic Review of Eswatini by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Eswatini’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Pholile Shakantu, said the Public Order Act of 2017 fully protected and enabled citizens to enjoy the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. However, these rights are not absolute.

“Like all other rights, these rights were not absolute – common limits and limits applied. Incitement to violence, riots, violent assemblies, burning and destruction of public or private property were illegal and not protected by freedom of expression or assembly,” she said. during the session.

This article was published orally by intermediate scrumwritten by Aphiwe Kunene.

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