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Eswatini 2022

Fundamental freedoms were suppressed. Political activists were arrested, subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and their homes were raided by security forces. Peaceful protests were violently dispersed, and the government denied human rights concerns raised by UN Special Rapporteurs. Hundreds remained at risk of forced eviction. LGBTI people faced discrimination, harassment and exclusion. Women’s rights organizations continued to raise concerns about gender-based violence.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Security forces continued to intimidate and harass dissenters. On 31 January, Colani Maseko, president of the Swaziland National Union of Students, was abducted by plain-clothes Criminal Investigation Department officers under the guise of “questioning”. He was released on bail on 4 February after being charged with sedition and damage to property.1 In May, he was again abducted outside the University of Eswatini by soldiers who beat him and then took him to Matsapha police station from where he was later taken to hospital. Another student union leader, Sakhile Nxumalo, was abducted by police officers on 1 February, assaulted, including by being electrocuted, and released the same day without charge.

Police targeted Tibusiso Mdluli and Nontsetselelo Nkambule of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) for wearing their party regalia during a protest in Mbabane city on 23 March. They were put in a police vehicle, stripped, insulted and brutally beaten by over 40 police officers, mostly men, and dumped in Mvutshini township.

In August, the king publicly praised the police and encouraged officers to take an “eye for an eye”.

Freedom of expression and assembly

The authorities continued to use the 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act and the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) to silence critics.

In June, Zweli Martin Dlamini, editor of Swaziland News, one of the country’s few independent online newspapers, was declared a terrorist under the STA.

In July, three UN Special Rapporteurs and other UN representatives raised concerns about the “severe restrictions of fundamental freedoms” in relation to the repression of mass protests, among other violations. The government denied responsibility for the violations.

On 1 September, the government banned South African national Sicelo Mngomezulu from entering the country following his remarks about the Annual Reed Dance (a cultural event). However, the ban may have arisen from his being a member of MPs Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube’s legal team. The MPs were detained in 2021 on trumped-up charges under the STA, and for contravening Covid-19 regulations. They were brutally assaulted by correctional services officers in the early hours of 22 September and denied medical care for over 24 hours until their lawyer filed an application at the court.

On 20 September, the home of PUDEMO’s president, Mlungisi Makhaya, was bombed, reportedly by state agents. He and his family were out and no one was injured.

Forced evictions

In April, a landowner enforced an eviction order against more than eight homesteads in KaMbhoke village in the Shiselweni region. The homes of over 30 people were destroyed, while violent protests by youths in the community prevented some demolitions. No alternative housing was provided.

In July, a landowner notified the Gege community in Mbondzela farm, of his court application to have them evicted from the land which they farm. Meanwhile, the residents were told to stop farming the land, putting them at risk of food insecurity. The move affected about 45 homesteads.

The Farm Dwellers Control Amendment Bill, which aims to regulate relations between farm dwellers and farm owners, remained pending at the senate.

LGBTI people’s rights

LGBTI people continued to face discrimination, harassment and exclusion. In April, the High Court upheld the Registrar of Companies’ refusal to register the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities advocacy group as an organization. In September, a mob harassed a gay couple in Mbabane, mocking them for “pretending to be women”.

Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence was widespread. On 11 February, a woman was killed in Nhlangano by her former partner who stabbed her approximately 40 times. The perpetrator later died in hospital after being attacked by a mob. Women’s rights organizations intensified calls for the declaration of a national emergency, signing up to the Eswatini Gender Based Violence Charter to end such crimes. Described as a “people’s initiative”, the charter was championed by the American Bar Association in partnership with civil society groups and the government.

  1. Eswatini: Student activist arbitrarily detained, facing malicious charges must be released immediately”, 1 February