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Journalists prevented from covering traditional ceremony, equipment confiscated by police

(MISA/IFEX) - Journalists covering a recent Incwala first fruits traditional ceremony in Swaziland had it tough as the media reported sporadic incidents where journalists, both local and foreign, were harassed, banned and had their equipment confiscated by the police whilst covering the event.

On 12 December 2008, Brian Mohammed, a journalist with the "Times of Swaziland," was banned and kicked out of a royal residence where he had gone to cover the first day of the Incwala main event. A police officer, who gave no reasons for his actions, told Mohammed that he was not welcome to cover the event and ordered him to leave. Not even the intervention of a colleague from another media house could convince the officer to allow Mohammed to cover the event. Mohammed eventually left without covering the event.

On 13 December, a television crew from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) also felt the brunt of police harassment. They had their equipment confiscated by the police when they were caught filming the event. This was despite the crew having the necessary accreditation.

Members of the SABC crew were quoted in the local media saying that the police had confiscated their equipment without giving any valid reason. It was not until the intervention of traditional authorities that the journalists were able to get their equipment back. But even then, they were told to stop covering the event.

During the festival's main event on 15 December, the situation was even worse as there was a blanket ban on media coverage of the event. Police officers made it a point that no journalist took photographs of the event. Those who attempted to do so had their cameras confiscated. No reasons were given for the blanket ban.

MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) Swaziland frowns at actions that violate the freedom of the press. MISA-Swaziland plans to raise this with the relevant government and traditional authorities. This was the first time the media have been harassed and banned during the Incwala ceremony. In the past, the media have been allowed to cover this event without any problems, though there were some limits.

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