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Government threatens online activists with prosecution

(MISA/IFEX) - 25 March 2011 - The government of Swaziland has and continues to threaten with prosecution people who are expressing themselves using popular social media networks such as Facebook. The government has accused the Facebookers of being too critical of the government and ruling elites in Swaziland.

On 25 March 2011, Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini assured Senators in Parliament that his government would track down, arrest and prosecute one Gangadza Masilela, whose Facebook postings have been critical of the status quo in Swaziland and the leadership in the country. Masilela, who is believed to be using a pseudonym, has a large following on his Facebook page.

Parliament recently urged the government to do something about Masilela as his Facebook postings were deemed too critical of the country's leadership. In response, the PM said the government would track down, arrest and prosecute Masilela.

Other Facebookers have used the network to mobilize and call for a political uprising on 12 April.

Having seen the uprisings in the Arab world where these social networks have been used to mobilize people to rise up and demand political changes from their governments, the jittery Swazi government is taking no chances and is trying to track down those calling for the Swazi uprising.

Some of the Facebookers have dared the government to arrest or prosecute them. So far no one has been arrested in connection with comments in the social media.

MISA-Swaziland condemns any threats to citizens for expressing themselves as this violates people's right to free expression as guaranteed and protected under Section 24 of the national constitution.

Such threats only serve to instil further fear among citizens who are already constrained and unable to express themselves freely through the traditional media, which is heavily censored by the government. The social media have become the only platform where Swazis can freely express themselves without fearing retribution from the government.

MISA appeals for tolerance and respect for citizens' right to free expression. No one should be arrested or prosecuted for exercising his/her right to freedom of speech.

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