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Civil Rights Groups Challenge Monarch’s Wednesday Meeting Ban

Swaziland's independent civil right groups are filing a court case Wednesday, challenging the absolute monarch's decision to ban its meeting scheduled for Thursday. The government contends that tomorrow's scheduled meeting will not only harm the country's interest. Officials argue it would compromise peace, security and stability. But local groups dismiss the government's remarks, saying forum participants from across the southern Africa sub-region had been expected to discuss calls on King Mswati III to accept political parties and other democratic reforms.

Thembinkosi Dlamini is a major proponent of the civil rights groups. From the capital, Mbabane he tells reporter Peter Clottey that the social forum is an open space for reflective thinking, democratic debates of ideas, and the free exchange of experiences.

"We are indeed prepared to go ahead and take government to court today to enforce our rights as per the constitution in section 25, which talks about the freedom of assembly and association, because as of yesterday, the government has reaffirmed its position that it would not allow this meeting to go ahead, especially, because the organizers are aligning themselves with COSATU (The Congress of South African Trade Unions), and allowing this meeting to go ahead would not be in the nation's interest. And it was a threat to national peace and stability," Dlamini noted.

He denied the civil rights groups are aimed at destabilizing the country, as the government is asserting.

"We were actually taken aback by the government stance, especially because the Southern African Social Forum has a regional meeting, which addresses issues of poverty, issues of regional solidarity and issues of oppression, democracy and governance, and other issues that are sort of problematic to the development of the region. One of the issues that was going to be discussed, for instance, is the issue of the current food crisis, the fuel crisis, and also the credit crisis that is ongoing in the whole world," he said.

Dlamini said the absolute monarch is behaving as if he is unaware of the objectives and the non-partisan nature of the social forum.

"We do not understand why now, all of a sudden, the government is taking such a stance when in the past, they have known that the social forums have been held everywhere in the world, in Europe, in Lartin America, in Africa, and even in Southern Africa, where social forums have been heard and there were never reports of any problems with regards to national security," Dlamini pointed out.

He said the groups are hopeful their court challenge of the monarch's meeting ban would be upheld, although he said the odds are stacked against them.

"The problem here is the independence of the judiciary is not guaranteed. And based on our previous experience with such cases that involved particularly section 25 of the constitution, you find that the courts do not come out strong to enforce those rights, obviously because of the lack of independence on the part of the judiciary. So we are really banking on the courts to at least this time make a statement to say the government cannot be allowed to go ahead violating people's human rights in the country. However, I would say our chances are 50-50," he said.

Dlamini said the groups would abide by the courts' decision if it rules against them.

"That would be an unfortunate situation of course, however, we are in constant contact with our partners in the region and continue to look at alternatives. However, being law-abiding citizens in this country, we would be sort of obliged to abide by the court's decision in this instance," Dlamini noted.

Meanwhile, King Mswati III is expected to appoint a new prime minister following the parliamentary elections held last month that were denounced as a burlesque of democracy.

Political observers say despite occasional unrest and a growing democracy movement, Swaziland is overwhelmingly peaceful. But police have reportedly prevented demonstrations by the king's critics. A significant number of members of parliaments from across Africa who observed last September vote said it did not meet both regional and international standards for democratic elections.