The ongoing arrests of members of the banned People's United Democratic Movement in connection with a series of petrol bombings is having a chilling effect on pro-democracy groups in Swaziland. On Wednesday, outspoken political activist Maphadlana Shongwe became the 15th person to be arrested.
The ongoing arrests of members of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) in connection with a series of petrol bombings is having a chilling effect on pro-democracy groups in Swaziland.
On Wednesday, outspoken political activist Maphadlana Shongwe became the 15th person to be arrested. He has been charged with destruction of government property, attempted murder and high treason.
Last month, the Swazi media reported Shongwe’s assertion that Pudemo was responsible for a string of petrol bombings that have targeted the homes of government and police officials since the middle of last year.
Shongwe is a critic of the absolute monarchy and a regular fixture in anti-government demonstrations.
“Nobody wants to talk anti-monarchy politics or be associated with opposition political parties,” said an official of a public health NGO who, like many other sources contacted by Irin, requested anonymity.
“People have always discussed political matters in lowered voices — now people are silent, they are scared. It seems that some of the bombing suspects may be guilty only of being anti-government, and if that is what it takes to get arrested, naturally, people are very careful what they say,” said a businessperson in Manzini.
The last treason trial in Swaziland took place in 2003, when Pudemo president Mario Masuku was acquitted of sedition charges.
Kislon Shongwe, who stepped in as Pudemo secretary general after the detention of Bonginkhosi Dlamini, told the Swazi media that 35 party members had fled Swaziland in fear of arrest.
“The police detain just about anyone remotely associated with the organisation, including girlfriends of party members who have nothing to do with Pudemo, hence our members have decided to leave the country for neighbouring states in order to protect themselves and their families.”
The wife of one of the arrested Pudemo members died of internal injuries two days after police interrogated her. A Pudemo statement claimed she was tortured.