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Swaziland’s Opposition Leader Expected in Court Over Terrorism Charges


The leader of Swaziland's main opposition, People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) party is expected at the country's High Court today (Monday) to defend terrorism charges brought against him by King Mswati III's government. Mario Masuku was recently arrested as part of a crackdown under the country's new anti-terrorism laws. He is alleged to have verbally supportered recent bombings of government institutions by some members of his party and has reportedly urged those bombings to continue. But PUDEMO condemned the arrest, claiming it is another attempt by the absolute monarch to clamp down on dissenting views. Majahenkhaba Dlamini is Swaziland's attorney general. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that the idea is not to punish political opponents, but to punish entities and persons involved in terrorist acts.

"It is a bit broad because the act (terrorism act) has got various activities defined as constituting an offense under the act. Not only that of causing terror by an application or by violence of one form or another, including explosives, bombs or whatever means of description, it's a whole list of activities intended to suppress terrorism," Dlamini noted.

He denied that the new terrorism law is violating the opposition leader's constitutional rights.

"If you look at the act, it has got absolutely nothing to do with the criticism of the government. In fact it excludes certain political groups if they ever express whatever views they might be expressing like unions and all those groups those are excluded. It says absolutely nothing about political party of any description it is only concerned with entities responsible for doing the various acts or activities, which constitute an offence. And as we understand it is in line with international convention," he said.

Dlamini said the opposition PUDEMO seems not to understand the terrorism act which its leader Masuku is currently facing.

"The unfortunate thing is that in the first place like we are saying, the act itself makes an offence of what he (Masuku) is supposed to have said. That is the starting point, and secondly the person who is said to have perpetrated the offense, at least those who have been found are of course in custody and I hope they would be tried in due course. But not for a terrorist act because at the time the act happened the Suppression of Terrorism Act had not come into force. So, they would probably find some other offense that might have been committed, I don't know what it would be ultimately. So, that is the position," Dlamini pointed out.

He said those who have been critical of government policies have not been charged for doing so.

"Of course there are other political parties who have been criticizing the government and they don't of course agree with the government polices, nothing has been done to those because they haven't committed offense by merely criticizing government. But if they go beyond criticizing and take up arms against the citizens of the country, there is noting that the government can do except to respond in terms of the law," he said.

Dlamini said the current terrorism law would support the government charges against the opposition PUDEMO leader.

"I can only say it is unfortunate if other laws are drafted in different term. But the law in question will seem to support the charge. I don't know what the court will do at the end of the day because they are responsible for interpreting the law. But it seems that the acts that are supposed to have been perpetrated by Masuku are acts, which the law presently condemn as being in support of a terrorist group or a terrorist act. That I think is what they are being charged with," Dlamini noted out.

Mario Masuku is the first person to be arrested under the new anti-terrorism law, which was introduced last September. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Meanwhile, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has condemned the Swaziland attorney-general's threatening statement that journalists who criticize King Mswati III's government could be arrested under a new anti-terrorism law that has just been used to crack down on opposition groups.

Attorney-General Majahenkhaba Dlamini warned last week that journalists critical of the government could be viewed as supporting terrorists and could be arrested under the Suppression of Terrorism Act, which provides for sentences of up to 25 years in prison.

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