(MISA/IFEX) - The government of Swaziland has banned the privately-owned "Times of Swaziland" Sunday newspaper from publishing weekly opinion articles by Mario Masuku, the president of the Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), a banned opposition party.
In a letter addressed to newspaper editor Innocent Maphalala, Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini said the government regards the PUDEMO leader as a terrorist and does not understand why the newspaper would allow him to write his weekly articles.
The newspaper quoted the attorney general as having said in his letter, "This is the same PUDEMO that was declared a terrorist entity last year. The entity or anybody on its behalf has never denied or challenged the declaration. And there you are giving all the publicity and support, as if the entity or its members are legitimate persons. In any effort to deal with the entity or member(s) of the entity, you and your newspaper cannot avoid being identified with the entity or its member(s)."
The attorney general further reminded the newspaper that promoting or giving support to terrorists remains a crime in Swaziland. "I cannot understand why terrorists should have anything to do with your newspaper. Whether you believe them to be terrorists or not is not the issue. Your belief about them is irrelevant as far as the law is concerned," the newspaper was warned.
As a result of the government threat, the newspaper has resolved to suspend Masuku's articles pending consultations on the matter. Maphalala said they will consult on what to do with Masuku's weekly column in the wake of the government threat and censorship action.
Masuku, on the other hand, was quoted by the newspaper as having said he understood the newspaper's position and respected their decision to suspend his articles.
MISA-Swaziland has expressed shock at the blatant action by the government to censor both Masuku and the newspaper. To this end, MISA-Swaziland strongly condemns the government's action and notes with great concern that this move not only perpetuates a state of fear and censorship among the Swazi media, but also violates basic principles of freedom of expression, a fundamental human right guaranteed in the Swaziland constitution. The action of the government also greatly interferes with the editorial independence of the newspaper.
MISA-Swaziland has therefore appealed to the government to allow Masuku and any other Swazi citizen to exercise their right to free expression and to allow the "Times of Swaziland" newspaper to exercise its editorial independence without undue interference and threats. MISA-Swaziland further notes with concern that the government action signals a poor start for the media in 2010.
On the other hand, MISA commends the newspaper for exposing the attempt by the government to bully and censor it, choosing not to suffer in silence.
Masuku was recently acquitted by the High Court on terrorism charges conferred on him by the government for comments he made during the funeral of a political activist. He has constantly been harassed by the government for his political beliefs.