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Proposed law would ban Facebook, Twitter users from insulting monarch

(Freedom House/IFEX) - March 26, 2012 - In an alarming move to restrict freedom of expression, the government of Swaziland has proposed a law that will make it illegal to criticize King Mswati III on Facebook and Twitter. Justice Minister Mgwagwa Gamedze proposed the legislation, informing the Swazi Senate they would take a “tough” stance on those who criticize the king via social media and “set an example.” The new law follows a period of economic crisis marked by increased social unrest and protests. Although only a fraction of the 1.2 million individuals in the country have Internet access, social networking has been used to organize protests, including student demonstrations in November 2011 against cutbacks in higher education.

Swaziland is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011 and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011. King Mswati III has full authority over the cabinet, Parliament and the judiciary. Political parties are illegal, and although the constitution guarantees women equal status, women in reality have few rights. A string of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2010 was brutally suppressed with arrests, torture and surveillance. While internet access has not been heavily restricted in the past, in December 2010 access was blocked to an opposition group's website.

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