Posted 2012/4/20

Swaziland: Government declares Trade Union Congress of Swaziland illegal and disrupts peaceful demonstrations

In early April 2012, the Swazi Government de-registered the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland and declared it illegal. TUCOSWA is a recently created umbrella organisation of pro-reform trade unions in Swaziland.

On 12 and 14 April 2012, Swazi police forcibly disrupted events organized by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) and other civil society groups in the country. These events were organised to commemorate the 1973 ban on political parties and to call for democratic reform in Swaziland. On 12 April, police disrupted a peaceful demonstration, arrested fifteen trade union members including Mr. Muzi Mhlanga, Secretary General of the National Teachers' Union SNAT, and reportedly interrogated and insulted them over a period of time. On 14 April, police disrupted a prayer gathering and arrested prominent church leader Mr Sydney Nyembe.

Although granted registration in January 2012, TUCOSWA was declared illegal by the government in early April 2012, reportedly due to a statement issued by leaders of TUCOSWA calling for the boycott of the 2013 elections. By this time, preparations were finalised for a four-day protest in Swaziland to commemorate the date of 12 April 1973, when the late King Sobhuza II assumed all legislative, executive and judicial powers and banned multipartyism. TUCOSWA took a lead role in the organisation of these pro-reform protests.

On 12 April, police from the Royal Swaziland Police Force, His Majesty’s Correctional Services, and the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force forcibly disrupted a peaceful four-day demonstration in Mbabane organised by trade union members of TUCOSWA. Fifteen trade unionists were arrested and released later the same day. During their detention, they were reportedly interrogated for many hours and insulted by the police. Among those arrested was Mr. Muzi Mhlanga, Secretary General of the National Teachers' Union SNAT.

Two days prior to this, the government had obtained a court order to prohibit the planned demonstration and Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini had issued a statement warning that police would reign in on any person who joined the protests. In his statement, he encouraged the public to call the national police emergency line if they witnessed protestors. This announcement was reportedly run on national radio more than ten times each day during the lead-up to the protests.

On 14 April, police disrupted a prayer gathering organised by civil society groups in the Lutheran Church in Manzini, by surrounding and blocking access to the church. Church leader Mr. Sydney Nyembe was arrested and released later that day. Sydney Nyembe is an executive of the Commission of Concerned Church Leaders which is a member of the Swaziland Coalition of Civic Organisations (SCCCO).

Front Line Defenders is concerned at the de-registering of TUCOSWA and believes that this action is directly linked to the organisation's role in organising the planned four-day protests calling for democratic reform in Swaziland. Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the threat made by the Swazi government to those people wishing to join the protests, at the disruption of the events and of the arrest and detention of participants in the pro-reform protests. Front Line Defenders views these activities as clear attempts to prevent Swazi human rights defenders from carrying out their peaceful and legitimate human rights work.

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