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MISA condemns targeting of activists, journalists during pro-democracy protests

(MISA/IFEX) - 13 April 2011 - The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) outrightly condemns the reported arrest and assault of pro-democracy activists, including journalists, in Swaziland during the first day of protests to demand political reform in the country.

According to media reports, riot police fired teargas and water cannons, assaulted demonstrators and arrested union leaders and further confiscated equipment of journalists in an attempt to stop the three-day pro-democracy protests which commenced on 12 April 2011.

MISA's Regional Secretariat and its national chapter in Swaziland have confirmed the arrest of dozens of activists in Manzini which is the centre of the demonstrations that were called to mark the 38th anniversary of the banning of political parties. MISA Swaziland also confirmed reports of assault, brief detention and confiscation of equipment of local and international journalists. MISA Swaziland is also in the process of confirming news reports of alleged arrests of some journalists.

MISA joins the calls from around the globe for the government of Swaziland to respect the rights of people to engage in peaceful protests.

MISA and its members throughout southern Africa believe that the people of Swaziland have the right to freedom of organization and expression, and that the right to peaceful protest should be upheld. We express our solidarity and support for the activists and journalists in Swaziland to claim their basic human rights to self-expression and association as they seek to create an equitable and just society.

The banning of peaceful protests and the repression of freedom of expression are a gross violation of the International Labour Organization Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Moreover, the Government of Swaziland, which ratified Convention 98 and Convention 87, is obliged to observe the workers' rights enshrined in them. In addition, the ban is tantamount to an infringement of Article 25 of the Swazi constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly and association.

Furthermore, the harassment, detention or arrest of journalists, including the confiscation of their equipment, is uncalled for and we call upon the government and the security forces to exercise restraint and allow journalists to do their work unhindered.

We wish also to warn the Swazi government that its established record of using force to crush dissent will not deter a nation which is justified in its right to seek democracy and a constitutional monarchy.

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