Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Random News Generator- Swaziland

The Swazi police force is coming under fire for an incident on Saturday in which they broke up a prayer meeting without any apparent legal pretense. Reportedly carrying whips and batons, the police broke it up claiming that it was a front for a political gathering in advance of upcoming elections. Political parties and political activity are banned in Swaziland, with the current constitution giving absolute power to the king, Mswati III. The gatherers, though they are prodemocracy activists, denied that there was any political intent and the programs given to the attendees bore that out; when asked for cause to break up the meeting- evidence, a warrant, anything- the police repeatedly refused to give any.

According to police spokesman Khulani Mamba, "When we see a crime happening, we don't need a court order."

This is not the first time a religious gathering has been broken up on accusations of political activity, and as the allAfrica article states, it's not limited to religious activity either. Swazi police are liable to break up any gathering whatsoever on any charges they deem suitable. In 2011, they went so far as to attempt to break up, with shotguns and tear gas, a meeting of lawyers in the building of the Swazi High Court- naturally, the highest court in the land- in which the lawyers were discussing how they might be able to remove Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi from office. Ramodibedi himself ordered the police action, The meeting was able to go ahead with the okay of the rest of the court, though Ramodibedi's order, the police intelligence unit had to be allowed to take part.

Human Rights Watch's World Report 2012 has a recap on the nation's restrictions on freedom of assembly, freedom of the press (it's illegal to run news articles critical of the ruling party), and civil rights over the course of 2011 alone.

This is in conjunction with Swaziland's kleptocratic economy, where extravagant spending by Mswati is juxtaposed with dire poverty elsewhere in the country leading to, among other things, difficulty in keeping school doors open, and the budget is, of course, not debated in parliament. When forced to choose, however- as, again, happened in 2011, when South Africa offered a $355 million loan to Swaziland in return for political and economic reform- power trumps money (the Swazi government refused the loan). It is also in conjunction with an ongoing AIDS epidemic that, alongside the poverty, has left Swaziland with the fourth-lowest life expectancy on Earth, a mere 49 years. They rank ahead of only South Africa, Guinea-Bissau and 222nd-and-last-place Chad. (The United States ranks 51st.)

By the way, King Mswati is the one to set the date of the elections. He has not yet done so, though they are scheduled for sometime during the year. Swaziland's lower house of parliament is the House of Assembly, containing 65 seats: 10 people picked by the king and 55 elected. The Senate has 30 seats, 20 of which are chosen by the king and 10 of which are chosen by the House of Assembly (which leaves none up for election and the king with a de facto permanent 2/3rds majority at bare minimum).

Long story short, America: it could be worse.

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