Police in riot gear surrounded a church and arrested several pro-democracy activists during a planned prayer for democracy in Swaziland.
Swazi riot police detained at least seven activists on Saturday while on their way to a pro-democracy church service in the central city of Manzini, one of the activists said.
Wandile Dludlu from the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and head of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) opposition Mario Masuku were among those held, Dludlu told AFP.
“Seven people were detained,” he said. “We had scheduled a national prayer for democracy.”
Police had set up road blocks to stop people from attending the service.
“Just as I approached the premises a crowd of police in riot gear was surrounding the church. There must have been around 60,” said Dludlu.
“They told me it is an order that today (Saturday) there isn’t going to be allowed any prayer here.”
Dludlu was forced into a police van, taken to the regional police headquarters, and from there later back to the capital Mbabane, he said.
On his release Dludlu learned that Masuku and five others had been detained as well. SUDF spokesperson Gugu Malindzisa and another woman activist had since been freed.
“They’re being interrogated and released one by one,” he said.
Protests have mushroomed in the impoverished kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The government on Thursday arrested trade union leaders who defied a court order blocking demonstrations to commemorate a ban on political parties and the suspension of the constitution that have allowed the king to rule by decree since 1973.
A “no tolerance” warning was issued against the protests, imposing a ban on walking in groups of three people or more.
“This shows what the Swazi regime is made of,” said Dludlu.—Sapa-AFP