Swaziland marks 47 years of independence, abuse criticized

AP News
Posted: Sep 06, 2015 9:41 AM

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — As Swaziland celebrates its 47th independence anniversary on Sunday, Africa's last absolute monarchy is still grappling with basic freedoms, a rights group said.

The southern African nation of Swaziland gained independence from Britain on Sept. 6 1968. Today it is ruled by King Mswati III, who inherited the throne in 1986 and enjoys broad authority, including appointing the prime minister and his Cabinet, according to a government website. The country holds regular parliamentary elections.

"It is ironic that as Swaziland celebrates 47 years of independence from Britain today, it continues to use legislation to shut down dissenting voices used by the colonial regime for the same purpose," Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's southern Africa director, said in a statement.

Political activists campaigning for increased freedoms and decentralized power have been detained under these laws, Amnesty said.

Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu spent more than one year in prison after being convicted of contempt of court for publishing articles scrutinizing threats to judicial independence. They were released after the Supreme Court overturned their conviction in June. Swaziland has since undertaken judicial reform, beginning when the king fired the chief justice, reported Swazi newspapers.

"As I sat in prison, I often asked myself what lessons were to be learned by punishing me for daring to ask a powerful man why he was breaking the law?" Makhubu wrote for the August edition of Swaziland's The Nation magazine. Makhubu wrote he remains hopeful that the constitution, adopted in 2005, will uphold rights and accountability.

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About 63 percent of Swaziland's 1.2 million people live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Swaziland has one of the world's highest rates of HIV, with 26 percent of adults infected, according to Doctors Without Borders.