- Thulani Maseko, a prominent human rights lawyer, has been arrested and is currently in police custody. He was initially charged under Swaziland's infamous and recently enacted Terrorism Act, but now faces charges under the Sedition Act.
Mr Maseko is currently acting for Mario Masuku, president of the banned opposition People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), who has spent six months in police custody awaiting trial.
This morning, he was taken to a magistrate's court, where he was formally charged with sedition allegedly on an opinion he expressed during the Workers' Day in Manzini. He was then remanded into custody pending his appearance at the High Court in the Swazi capital, Mbabane. Presently, he is kept at the Sidwashini Prison in Mbabane.
The prominent lawyer's arrest comes amid growing demands for democratic reform in Swaziland. Despite a new constitution, political parties are not entitled to contest elections and totalitarian King Mswati III continues to rule by decree.
The Suppression of Terrorism Act, enacted in late 2008, has already been the subject of much international and domestic criticism. Its definition of terrorism is so broad it could potentially encompass any activity and the powers given the Minister of Justice to ban individuals and organizations are almost unfettered.
The opposition group PUDEMO today "strongly condemned" the arrest of Mr Maseko, saying state security agents had been "acting on the instructions of the country's authorities" when "ambushing" the lawyer this morning at his home. "We are not surprised by this arrest," the PUDEMO statement said. "Information was already circulating two weeks ago that the necessary process was in motion by the state to have Cde Maseko detained," it added.
Calling for the release of Mr Maseko, Nicole Fritz, director of the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), said; "This is one more instance in which the Swazi government shows that it has no genuine commitment to constitutional democracy in Swaziland. That it would arrest Thulani who has been involved in almost every important human rights challenge in Swaziland in recent years shows just how shameless it is."
Sisonke Msimang, director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), added: "In recent years, as the region has been focused on the crisis in Zimbabwe, Swaziland's King Mswati has systematically targeted civil society activists and human rights defenders in a manner that emulates Mugabe. Swaziland's political crisis deserves far more attention than it has previously received."
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