Eswatini 2020

Hundreds of families were threatened with forced eviction. LGBTI people were subjected to discrimination and harassment. A man was charged with marital rape for the first time. Repressive legislation was used to silence peaceful dissent and journalists faced arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and prosecution.

Background

In March, the Prime Minister declared a two-month state of emergency to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were reports that security forces harassed people when they went out for food or to seek medical attention.

Forced evictions

The lack of land policy or land act continued to disadvantage people who faced forced evictions. Hundreds of families in the Manzini region were threatened with eviction when landowners took steps to regain their farmland. The Human Rights Commission had intervened and was negotiating with the landowner in the case of over 100 people facing evictions in Sigombeni. If due process requirements are not followed and adequate compensation is not provided, this could result in a forced eviction. In July, an appeal by the Council of Eswatini Churches to the Ministry of Resources and Energy successfully averted the eviction of 45 families, including 38 children, from their land in Mbondzela, Shiselweni.

Local authorities in the Mangwaneni township of the capital, Mbabane, demolished one homestead in February and three in August, resulting in the forced eviction of 17 people in households headed by older people. After a resident was injured by a rubber bullet fired by police during clashes in the August demolition, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development halted the demolitions while the local traditional authorities worked to resolve the matter. However, most of the affected residents were too poor to rebuild or repair their structures and the municipality banned them from doing so.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people

LGBTI people were discriminated against, harassed and stigmatized. Consensual same-sex relations remained a criminal offence.

In July, the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities advocacy group challenged the Minister of Commerce and Industries’ decision to reject its application for registration. The case was adjourned twice before being heard in October at the High Court in Mbabane, although a judgment was not issued by the year’s end.

Violence against women and girls

In January, Nhlanhla Dlamini became the first person to be charged with marital rape under the 2018 Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act. In the same month, his case went before the High Court which granted him bail.

Under COVID-19 measures, the work of civil society groups was classified as non-essential, thereby denying survivors of violence access to vital support services. In April, the government allowed such organizations to continue their work following pressure from the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse and other NGOs.

Freedoms of expression and association

In May, Goodwill Sibiya was released and all charges against him dropped after he spent one year in prison for saying the King should be charged with embezzlement and human rights violations. He had also been charged with terrorism and sedition in connection with his association with the People’s United Democratic Movement Party.

Journalists

The government used draconian legislation, including the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, to silence media. Journalists were subjected to arbitrary arrest, and torture and other ill-treatment.

In February, Zweli Martin Dlamini, editor of the Swaziland News, was arrested at his home in Mbabane for publishing articles which criticized the King. He said he was tortured in the Mbabane police headquarters, including by having a plastic bag put over his head. He was released without charge six hours later and fled to South Africa the following day. In April, police raided his home and arrested his wife, Nompendulo Nokuthula Mkhonta. While in police custody in Mbabane, she was tortured under interrogation and released three hours later without charge.

The Eswatini Communications Commission rejected applications for short-term community broadcasting licences from the Swaziland Community Multimedia Network on behalf of Shiselweni Community Radio and Lubombo Community Radio. It had applied for licences to allow the radio stations to broadcast information which would raise public awareness about COVID-19. The applications were rejected in line with the Broadcasting Guidelines, which stated that two licences could not be issued to one entity, and because there was reduced staff capacity to process applications during the partial lockdown.

The Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill, which was yet to be brought before Parliament, contained provisions to impose 10-year prison sentences and hefty fines on online news sites journalists deemed to have published “fake news”.