(MISA/IFEX) - Two political activists were arrested and detained on 18 July 2009 in a move seen by many as further evidence of the Swazi government's crackdown on dissenting voices. The activists, Mphandlana Shongwe and Norman Xaba, both members of the banned opposition party, the People's Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), were arrested for merely expressing themselves at a social dialogue event organized by citizens in Manzini on 18 July 2009. Shongwe was arrested for shouting "Viva PUDEMO" during the event whilst Xaba was arrested for wearing a PUDEMO t-shirt.
They were both charged under the controversial Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2008 on 20 July 2009. Shongwe was granted bail of E3000 (approx. US$375), whilst Xaba refused to apply for bail. Shongwe reportedly defied his organization which had advised him against applying for bail.
This brings to four the number of activists arrested and detained since the new government took over in October 2008, with a clear mandate from King Mtswati to deal with political dissenters whom the government has labeled "terrorists."
MISA-Swaziland has condemned the continued arrest of political dissenters, saying this constitutes a serious attack on freedom of expression and freedom of association, which the citizens should enjoy as guaranteed and protected by the Constitution.
Shongwe's and Xaba's arrests follow the arrest and detention of two other prominent political activists, PUDEMO President Mario Masuku who was arrested in October 2008 and Human Rights Lawyer Thulani Maseko in June 2009, both on similar charges. Masuku was arrested for his utterances during the funeral of a political activist, whilst Maseko was arrested for expressing himself during a Workers Day Celebration. Masuku was charged under the Terrorism Act whilst Maseko was charged under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1963. Masuku is still in detention following his refusal to apply for bail and Maseko is currently out on bail. The continued arrest and detention of activists has intensified fear among the citizens who are now scared of exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression as guaranteed in Section 24 of the Swaziland Constitution.