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Newly-appointed Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini assures media houses they will enjoy press freedom

(MISA/IFEX) - Swaziland's Prime Minister, Sibusiso Dlamini, notorious for harassing and closing down media houses during his previous term as prime minister between 1993 and 2003, has assured journalists that they will enjoy media freedom during his new term. Dlamini was recently re-appointed by the king - titles only need to be capitalized when a name follows.

Speaking to editors during a breakfast meeting on 29 January 2009, Dlamini said the media shouldn't be afraid of him because the constitution protects them. He said in the event something untoward happens to any of them, journalists can always seek redress in court.

The prime minister was reacting to concerns from one of the editors about Dlamini's leadership style, recalling his previous tenure. "Times of Swaziland" managing editor, Martin Dlamini, had said the media had been uneasy since Sibusiso Dlamini's re-appointment because they did not know what he had in store for them this time.

He said these fears were compounded by recent events when "Times" columnist Mfomfo Nkambule was harassed by state police and traditional authorities for expressing himself.

In response, the prime minister assured the journalists that he would not harass them this time and they will enjoy their freedoms. Referring to the Nkambule case, the prime minister stated that it is the government's duty to protect the king from criticism, which is why the columnist was questioned by the police about his views.

But in the same breath, the prime minister banned the media from writing about political parties which the government does not recognize. These parties include the Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) whose leader, Mario Masuku, is currently in jail for allegedly supporting terrorism.

Background

During the Prime Minister's previous term, he not only harassed the media, but also demonstrated total disregard for the rule of law resulting in the complete collapse of the judiciary. This saw the en masse resignation of the Appeals Court judges who only came back after Prime Minister Dlamini was fired and a new prime minister was appointed.

During his previous term, Dlamini also banned two media houses, the "Nation" Magazine and the "Guardian" newspaper. While the "Nation" fought its way back to life in court, the "Guardian" remains banned even today.

The popular view in Swaziland is that Dlamini was reappointed for his tough-handedness and has a strict mandate to specifically deal with perceived state enemies.

For further information on the Nkambule case:
( http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/100280 )

For further information on the Masuku case:
( http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/98624 )

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