The incumbent regime has been gathering political activists in jail cells since the Decree of 1973 when, barely 5 years after Swaziland gained independence, Sobhuza repealed the constitution, declared himself supreme ruler, and banned political parties and, in essence, abolished multiparty democracy.

The Decree of 1973 was a 3 page document that wrecked the lives and dreams of emaSwati, and stole their freedom. Fast forward three decades to when Mswati III approves the Constitution Act of 2005, which essentially unbans political consciousness by enshrining rights to political activity. This put the regime in quite the peculiar spot because expressions of political dissent were now legally permitted (in a state where the head of state still remains a supreme authority, there was bound to be problems [for the state]).

Therefore, when the kakistocratic regime realized it had made a mistake by guaranteeing political rights, it attempted to fix its mistake by silencing those who are politically active/conscious. The legislature has passed countless unjust laws specifically targeting political activists: the Terrorism Act, the Public Order Act, etc. These laws have been used by the police to abduct, arrest, brutalize, and torture usually popular activists mainly to punish them for their activism, and also as a way to demobilize others from actively participating in the democratic movement. 

They have been implemented by the courts, despite their unconstitutionality, with activists held in the country’s jails for months-to-years without trial. Not only is this practice frivolous in its [insert word here], it is also a direct contravention of the rights of political activists as enshrined in the constitution and as guaranteed by international conventions.

In the simplest of terms, a political prisoner is one who is jailed because of their political consciousness and/or activity. Countless emaSwati are currently out on bail for so-called crimes committed under the most tedious “laws”, with most of their cases having never had a day in court. Amnesty International refers to such individuals as prisoners of conscience (poc), and defines them as those imprisoned because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, and political views, including individuals jailed for the nonviolent expression of such views. 

The country is abound with individuals targeted and sanctioned by the Tinkhundla regime, to be imprisoned by the rigged state judiciary primarily for the ideologies and thoughts they possess, propose, and/or support. The regime views these ideas as threats and direct attacks on their fascist existence, and therefore fabricates laws to be used in the entrapment and incarceration of politically conscious civilians.

Political prisoners in eSwatini are subject to some of the most gruesome torture tactics during interrogation and incarceration. The police tend to abduct political activists from gatherings, or even from their homes. Beatings, sexual violations, waterboarding, and even poisoning are some interrogation tactics employed by the police when questioning activists. One might even say being in police custody as a political activist is a near-death experience! Often, activists are remanded into custody without so much as a warrant of arrest being read. Trumped up charges are then laid on these freedom-fighters, cases transferred to court where they will appear and be granted bail at a hearing. This hearing will oftentimes be the only time they are given the opportunity to be heard in court.

In the year 2021 alone, tens of teenagers were arrested for exercising their right to freedom of assembly and expression during the June-July unrests. These were students who were taken from schools, in their school uniform, to be assaulted by the police. Trumped up charges were brought up by the state against these children and they were remanded into custody. Teenagers. School-going children. Who now have criminal records and pending cases simply for expressing discontent with the current government? 

These are students (unemployed, dependent on their parents) who are required to report to police posts/stations on a monthly basis! It goes without saying that the police posts they must report to are no walking distance from their homes. The young ones must fork out bus fare monthly to report to police officers who will unwarrantedly intimidate them each and every time they show up. And because the system/regime has absolutely no regard for the circumstances in which one lives, if ever they slip up and are unable to show up on the mandated day, they will be berated by the cops and are at risk of being incarcerated once more for violation of their bail conditions.

The teenage students are among many, many civilians that were arrested last year on ludicrous charges created from the deliberate misconstruction of what were already unjust laws: insurrection, sedition, malicious damage to property. To date, over 100 men and women are out on bail as political prisoners. This is more than 100 men and women whose freedom is limited because they were “caught” with dissenting political views. In a country ravaged by poverty, the amount of money that has been paid by activists of the democratic movement to the state as bail and surety is unbelievable, notwithstanding the money political activists have paid for litigation and other court-related and court-mandated costs such as transport to and from police posts and the courts.

It is worth mentioning that the abduction, detention, arrest, and torture of political activists is a tactic employed by the regime to undermine the democratic movement. The monarchy aspires to rule with an iron fist, and this is a strategy to deter others away from activism by instilling fear. It is widely known that the brutality does not end in the interrogation rooms, but it follows one all the way home and into their mother’s living room. 

The regime, through its security forces, will follow activists’ home using random checkups, visitations, etc. Comrades have reported being intimidated, threatened, or even abducted by police to be heavily assaulted. They have also been known to approach activists and even their relatives upon release, offering them lucrative lifestyles if they would just jump ship and join forces with the regime.

NB: Lethokuhle Manzini is communications volunteer for the eSwatini Solidarity Fund