Sixteen Swazis have been arrested on charges ranging from treason to attempted murder following several fire-bombings late last year in Swaziland. Those charged are all political activists.
Among those held by the Swaziland police is the secretary general of PUDEMO, the People's United Democratic Movement. The rest are all members of PUDEMO or of its youth wing.
Swazi authorities allege the 16 are responsible for fire-bombings that targeted government installations late last year. Government spokesman Percy Simelane told VOA the reason for the attacks is not known, but that most Swazis assume the perpetrators are opposed to the current system of government
But Kislon Songwe, PUDEMO's acting secretary general, told VOA the government is targeting his organization and that the charges against his members are without foundation.
"The state does not have evidence that would sustain charges relating to high treason, attempted murder, sedition," he said.
In 1973 then King Sobhuza II suspended Swaziland's constitution and outlawed all political parties. Swaziland has since been ruled by royal decree. There is a new constitution that added some human rights protections, but at the same time cemented the power of the current monarch, Mswati III.
Although it remains outlawed, PUDEMO has defied the ruling and operated openly for the past 10 years. And Shongwe says that as early as 1973 his organization began lobbying the monarchy and the government to allow Swazi's full political rights. He says they warned that failure to do so would eventually force Swazis to abandon peaceful efforts to achieve their goals.
"Continued and unabated suppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms, results in an insurrection whose consequences may be too ghastly to contemplate," he said.
Mr. Shongwe tells VOA that those arrested have been tortured. He alleges that one man was taken to a forest where he was severely beaten and that a woman with pancreatic illness died after being interrogated by police.
These allegations were rejected by government spokesman Percy Simelane, who told VOA they are no more than speculation.
"Let me start with the issue of the woman who is alleged to have died after she was tortured by the police," he said. "If you were to be subjected to that by the police, surely your family would go straight to the police and report the matter. Up to now, the family of this woman have not come forward to say that this happened so it remains speculation."
Swaziland's economy is suffering the effects of drought and the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has left with many Swazi's dependent on food aid. But King Mswati has in the past year spent millions on travel, luxury vehicles and homes for 13 wives and fiancees.