By Margaret Zulu and Anton Harber of the Campaign for Free Expression.
The Kingdom of eSwatini has declared journalist Zweli Martin Dlamini and his South African-based online publication, Swaziland News, as “specified entities” who “knowingly facilitate the commission of terrorist acts”.
Prime Minister Cleopas Sipho Dlamini published the order last week in terms of eSwatini’s Suppression of Terrorism Act.
He was acting on the recommendation of eSwatini’s Attorney General, Sifiso Khumalo, who wrote that Dlamini had “on numerous occasions and at different intervals published articles … that instigate violence, the burning of public and state property, the seizure of state power and overthrown of lawful government”. He is accused of doing this in Swaziland News and on his Facebook page.
“In his latest antics, Zweli Martin Dlamini is threatening killing of police officers” and it was “worth noting that there had been recent shooting of officers by unknown gunmen”, Khumalo wrote in his recommendation of action against Dlamini.
This fell within the definition of terrorism, he said.
Dlamini moved to South Africa in 2018 when his print newspaper, Swaziland News, was banned under eSwatini’s Registration of Books and Newspapers Act. He registered and set up his website in South Africa and has joined the Press Council of SA, a self-regulatory body which monitors media conduct. He says he has a team of five journalists.
Swaziland News is strongly critical of the eSwatini authorities, particularly the security forces, and covers that country’s pro-democracy movement extensively. It recently reported that a police officer had been shot “allegedly by members of the pro-democracy Swaziland International Solidarity Forces (SISF) that defends civilians from ‘blood thirsty’ King Mswati’s security forces”. This came shortly after another two policemen had been shot.
Dlamini wrote that “the Solidarity Forces had vowed to deal with police officers after Mswati demonstrated reluctance in engaging in a political dialogue and subsequently unleashed the police and soldiers to shoot and kill dozens of civilians merely for demanding democratic reforms”.
In an interview this week, he said that “most of the time we report about pro-democracy issues because at the moment, the people of Swaziland want democracy.
“The people are oppressed and have no access to free media, so we are advocating for justice, freedom of expression, and to empower people to engage those in power. We are covering [the pro-democracy movement] and giving them a voice as government was suffocating them by denying them access to media.”
Dlamini, a former private investigator, said he was also a contributor for BBC and a part-time writer for the Mail & Guardian.
He said he no longer feels safe and has to change his location from time to time. “The government is on record saying they are hunting me. I am aware that they are watching me.”
The eSwatini government was trying to force the international community to distance themselves from him, Dlamini said. They were doing this because he was dependent on grants from the international community.
Dlamini said that he faces two other attempts by the eSwatini authorities to silence him through the South African courts. King Mswati, he said, went to the High Court to seek an order to prevent him for publishing stories about Mswati’s government without giving them 10 days to answer questions.
Dlamini said he was opposing this as it was not reasonable to expect 10 days to respond to a breaking news story.
Prince Sicalo, eSwatini’s Defence Principle took him to court “saying we were invading his privacy when we alleged he crossed the border to purchase weapons”. The court ordered them to under mediation, and this had not been completed, Dlamini said.
“They are trying to systematically silence the publication,” he said.
After recent incidents in eSwatini – including the disruption of an EU-funded water project done by a company allegedly linked to the King and the shooting of police – the government said it would not sit back and watch while the country came under siege from terror attacks.
Dlamini said he intends to take the decision on review.
The Campaign for Free Expression, based in Johannesburg, expressed strong concern with the declaration and called on the government to revoke it. “This declaration is not only contrary to the Constitution of eSwatini but also international instruments which eSwatini is party to, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the AU Protocol on the Media, the 1991 Windhoek Declaration and the 2021 update, Windhoek +30.” CFE said eSwatini ranks a low 131 among 180 countries in Reporters’ without Borders’ global index of press freedom.
*Zulu and Harber are from the Campaign for Free Expression (CFE), a non-partisan, non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting and expanding the right to free expression for all and enabling everyone to exercise this right to the full.