May 11, 2001
His Royal Highness King Mswati III
The Kingdom of Swaziland
VIA FAX: 268.6.43943
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely disturbed by the unwarranted suspensions of the weekly Guardian and the monthly Nation, two independent publications based in the Swazi capital, Mbabane.
On May 2, police arrested the Guardian‘s editor, Thulani Mthethwa, and drove him to police headquarters in Mbabane where he was interrogated at length over stories in his newspaper about activities in Your Highness’s palace. He was released after several hours.
On May 4, the newly appointed Registrar of Newspapers, Sam Malinga, ordered the Guardian to cease publishing immediately, saying that the publication was not lawfully registered with his office. The same day, police impounded all the copies of the current issue of the Guardian at the South African border (the paper is printed in Middleburg, South Africa) and sent them to police headquarters in Mbabane.
That week’s issue of the Guardian included reports on Your Highness’s health, as well as on rumors that you were poisoned by your first wife. The Guardian had earlier published a photograph of the queen crying at the Mbabane airport as she prepared to board a plane for London, allegedly because Your Highness had expelled her from the royal palace. The latest edition of the monthly Nation also carried similar reports.
Lawyers for the Guardian filed an urgent application with Chief Justice Stanley Sapire on May 4, seeking to recover the impounded copies of the paper and asking for injunctions against confiscation of any further copies. After hearing the lawyer’s argument, Judge Sapire reserved his decision until May 12. Meanwhile, however, in a so-called Extraordinary Gazette Order, Information Minister Dlamini suspended both the Guardian and the Nation. The minister cited Section 3 of the Proscribed Publications Act of 1968, which gives his office unlimited powers to ban or suspend publications that do not conform with “Swazi morality and ideals.”
Editors for the Guardian and the Nation are due to appear in court on May 11.
Our sources in Swaziland believe the function of the Registrar of Newspapers is to inhibit the work of the independent press. Evidence of this is the fact that the new
Registrar was appointed in an ad hoc fashion on May 3, only a day before he took action against the Guardian. Malinga’s position had been vacant for over 40 years, sources in Mbabane told CPJ. Immediately after his appointment, he announced that only publications that had been in existence for at least five years would be allowed to register under the Books and Newspapers Act of 1963. (Only the state-owned Swazi Observer and the pro-government Times of Swaziland fit this requirement.)
Under Malinga’s order, newspapers that were launched in the past five years would have to cease operation immediately. This decision evidently targeted the Guardian and the Nation, both of which were created in recent months and had obtained publication licenses from the Registrar of Companies.
CPJ denounces the suspension of these two independent publications, an action we believe to be part of an orchestrated campaign to root out critical voices in the kingdom. Both the Guardian and the Nation are known to support democratic government in Swaziland; both are critical of the fact that Your Highness has governed by decree since the suspension of Swaziland’s constitution in 1973.
As an organization of journalists defending press freedom around the world, CPJ believes that journalists must be free to report on their governments. The freedom to seek, receive, and impart information is a right afforded all people, regardless of the form of government under which they live, under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We urge you to unconditionally reverse the suspension of the Guardian and the Nation and to order government officials to stop harassing the newspapers.
We await your comments on this extremely urgent matter.
Ann K. Cooper