Second Swazi ban on independent newspapers 

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afrol News / AENS, 24 May - Swaziland's monarchist government on Wednesday banned two of the kingdom's most outspoken publications for the second time this month. Extraordinary Government Gazette Legal Notice 76 said on Wednesday that the Nation magazine and weekly Guardian newspaper were prejudicial to the interests of public order because they did not operate in accordance with Swaziland law.

The notice, signed by Swaziland Public Service and Information Minister Mtonzima Dlamini, added that the publications were not properly registered. Citing Section 3 the Proscribed Publications Act of 1968, Dlamini also banned the distribution of any related publications or supplements to either the Guardian or Nation. 

The draconian Proscribed Publications Act grants Dlamini unlimited powers to ban or suspend publications that do not conform with "Swazi morality and ideals."

The banning follows police raids on the Nation's offices in the capital Mbabane on Tuesday and an earlier unsuccessful banning of both the Nation and Guardian on World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The initial banning, published in Extraordinary Government Gazette 63, sparked police blockades and raids against retail outlets selling the publications. The banning order was, however, overturned by High Court Judge Jacobus Annandale last week when he ruled that Dlamini was wrong to issue a blanket ban on the Nation without referring the matter to court or at least supplying detailed reasons for the ban.

Swaziland Attorney General Phesheya Dlamini has appealed Annandale's ruling, but the new banning order, which contains a more detailed motivation for proscribing the publications, appears to pre-empt the judicial process.

Nation editor Bheki Makhubu confirmed that uniformed policemen raided his offices on Tuesday evening and attempted to confiscate all copies of the magazine's June edition. Police also reported harassed magazine vendors and retailers in Mbabane and the commercial city of Manzini, before confiscating early copies of the magazine.

The magazine charged government with criminal spoliation on Wednesday, arguing that the State was maliciously abusing the powers at its disposal to unfairly persecute it. The court agreed to finalise the hearing on Thursday, a public holiday in Swaziland, and deliver judgement.

- We have a strong case, but this second gazette will unfortunately still prevent us from publishing, said Makhubu. "We keep winning our court cases, but government then simply uses some other law to clamp down on us. They know that we have very limited resources and obviously hope we'll eventually surrender and throw in the towel," said Makhubu.

- Our advertisers are also increasingly concerned about supporting a publication that is out of favour with the State, he said.

Insisting that the clampdown was persecution of the independent media, Makhubu noted that Swaziland law did not cover the Internet and said the Nation was considering refocusing its activities.

The Guardian has meanwhile ceased publication of its weekly newspaper, but is updating its daily Internet with details of its struggle for media freedom. Both the Guardian and the Nation are known to support Swaziland's banned multi-party democracy movement and have both been critical of King Mswati III's decision to govern by royal decree.

Senior journalists on both publications have previously been detained and questioned by police, who demanded that they reveal their sources on reports critical of the kingdom's ban on free political activity.

All political parties have been banned in Swaziland since the suspension of the kingdom's constitution in 1973. Mswati's handpicked Parliament has also recently demanded that a proposed Media Council Bill be tabled for adoption.

The Media Bill was deferred five years ago following international condemnation for allegedly seeking to gag and control journalists by requiring them to register with a government controlled media council.


By Justin Arenstein & Lunga Masuku, 

African Eye News Service (AENS)


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