/ 22 September 2009

Swazi chief acquitted of terrorism charges, claims family

The leader of a banned Swaziland political movement was released on Monday from 10 months of imprisonment after a court acquitted him of terrorism and sedition charges, his family said.

”We applied for an acquittal and the application was upheld by the judge at the close of the state’s case,” his son Mzwandile told Agence France-Presse.

Mario Masuku, head of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo), was arrested on November 15 on terrorism and sedition charges in Africa’s sole remaining monarchy and held in a maximum security prison.

The state had alleged that Masuku had supported several bomb blasts that had rocked the small mountain kingdom last September, ahead of parliamentary polls from which political parties were barred, he said.

The defence applied for an acquittal after evidence presented by the state had been ”totally irrelevant and not useful”.

Masuku, a vocal campaigner for multi-party democracy, was arrested in the mid-1980s for treason, a case he later won on appeal.

His arrest last year followed the Swazi government’s banning of Pudemo and three other organisations as terrorist entities.

King Mswati III, who ascended the throne at age 18, has the power to appoint the prime minister, the legislature and the judiciary.

His country is one of Africa’s poorest, with one of the world’s highest HIV rates, and some have blamed the king’s state-sponsored extravagant lifestyle for draining Swaziland’s finances.

The banned Umbane People’s Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the bomb blasts in the country last year. — Sapa-AFP