Swaziland: International NGO CIVICUS Calls for Release of Eswatini MPs Before the Anniversary of Their Detention

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Eswatini members of parliament Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube ahead of their one-year anniversary in detention.

Bacede and Mthandeni were detained on 25 July 2021 following protests demanding political reforms and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and for flouting Covid-19 regulations. They feature in CIVICUS’s global #StandAsMyWitness campaign, calling for the release of activists in prison or facing pre-trial detention after protecting and promoting human rights.

“CIVICUS calls for the immediate release of Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, and all charges against them dropped. As MPs, it is their duty to peacefully demand democratic reform and speak out against repression – freedom of speech is not a crime. Their detention has been politically motivated, fuelled by a crisis sweeping Eswatini – they should not spend another night behind bars,” said David Kode, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.

Pro-democracy and anti-police protests swept Eswatini in June 2021 after the unexplained death of 25-year-old law student, Thabani Nkomonye, allegedly at the hands of the police. Over 1,000 people were arrested and the security forces called in to stamp out dissent. Political unrest followed and in recent months the landlocked Southern African country has experienced a so-called ‘winter revolution’ – journalists have been targeted and there have been clashes between the authorities and protesters calling for government and monarchical reforms.

A Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit to discuss political unrest sweeping the country was due to take place on 21 July but cancelled when Eswatini’s King Mswati III failed to appear in person. Campaigners believe King Mswati, Africa’s last absolute monarch, has thwarted calls for reform and suppressed political activism for years. His failure to attend the recent SADC conference was seen as a further blow to democracy.

“We urge King Mswati to come to the table and start a national political dialogue with members of the opposition and civil society leaders as soon as possible; we call on Eswatini to stop suppressing dissent and silencing protesters and urge the government to overhaul rights and democracy in the country, starting with the release of all activists and human rights defenders currently behind bars,” said Kode.

Human rights defenders across the world are risking their lives for social, political, economic, gender and environmental justice. There are currently 21 human rights defenders in CIVICUS’s #StandAsMyWitness campaign – collectively, they have been in prison for half a century.

As well as Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, they include Bahrainian political activist Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, sentenced after pro-democracy protests in 2011; Mexican Kenia Hernandez, an Indigenous land rights campaigner sentenced to a decade of imprisonment in 2022; and human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov from Tajikistan, sentenced to 28 years in 2015.

“CIVICUS renews our calls to governments to release activists and human rights defenders. We urge people around the world to join the #StandAsMyWitness campaign and fight for their freedom – sign a petition, post on social media or lobby your government. Activists behind bars are asking you to #StandAsMyWitness.”

So far, #StandAsMyWitness has teamed up with activists and civil society organisations across the world and successfully seen the release of 20 human rights defenders.

Those released include Loujain al-Hathloul from Saudi Arabia, a women’s rights activist convicted for driving a car; celebrated Indian human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj; and Kazakhstan’s Asya Tulesova, arrested for knocking off a police officer’s hat.

To find out more about the #StandAsMyWitness campaign, visit CIVICUS’s campaign webpage: Stand As My Witness.

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