Swazi prince threatens journalists who ‘write bad things’

New York, July 26, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns death threats and outrageous claims made last week by a member of Swaziland’s royal family against local journalists over their critical coverage of the country’s leadership.

During a July 21 public forum called the Smart Partnership National Dialogue in the central commercial city of Manzini, Prince Mahlaba, brother of Swaziland’s absolute ruler King Mswati III, was quoted by local media as saying: “I want to warn the media to bury things that have the potential of undermining the country rather than publish all and everything even when such reports are harmful to the country’s international image.

Journalists who continue to write bad things about the country will die.” The prince also accused the media of peddling lies, saying: “It’s a fact that journalists earn their living by writing lies and if they do not write the lies then their source of livelihood is threatened and this is fact and beyond debate.”

The senior prince was responding to a question at the forum from the queen about why the media was portraying the country negatively, local journalists told CPJ.

Mbogani Mbingo, managing editor of the independent Times of Swaziland, told CPJ the threats were “dangerous” and could not be taken lightly since the prince was a member of a highly influential royal advisory council, the Swazi National Council Standing Committee (SNC).” The SNC advises the king on public policy, including media matters.

“The government of Swaziland must immediately reject the death threats against journalists by a leading member of the ruling family,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on the government to issue a clear and unequivocal statement condemning this murderous outburst and ensuring the international community that Swaziland is committed to the protection of all journalists.”

Comfort Mabuza, the National Director of the local chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa condemned the threats and feared they could incite the public against the journalists. “We are in big trouble because his view may be representing that of SNC, which advises the king,” Mabuza told CPJ. “The council is yet to call him to order and we are really concerned about their continued silence.”

In Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, the government persists in intimidating journalists who write about the monarchy, leading to censorship and self-censorship, according to CPJ research.