Eswatini: South African journalists detained and tortured

Security forces in Eswatini arrested and tortured two South African journalists covering pro-democracy protests on 4 July. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) denounces the mistreatment and arbitrary detention of these reporters and calls on the Eswatini authorities to stop its attacks on press freedom and the right to information.

People queue to buy food at a supermarket in Mbabane, Eswatini, on July 1, 2021. Demonstrations escalated radically in Eswatini this week. Credits: AFP

Cebelihle Mbuyisa and Magnificent Mndebele, two South African journalists working for New Frame, were on assignment in Eswatini to report on recent pro-democracy demonstrations which have been violently suppressed by the authorities.

On their way back from the funeral of Vincent Bhembe, a civilian killed by security forces outside a primary school, both journalists were stopped by armed soldiers. They were reportedly threatened, their cameras were seized and they were forced to delete the footage they had collected.

Mbuyisa and Mndebele were later taken to a police station for questioning, during which they were beaten and tortured, notably with a plastic bag over their heads. Thanks to their lawyer, they were released later in the day and taken to hospital. The next day, they returned to South Africa.

The two journalists had previously denounced threats and harassment by the Eswatini security forces.

Violent repression of pro-democracy demonstrators

Since May, pro-democracy protests have been taking place in Eswatini, the last absolute monarchy in Africa. The demonstrators are calling for an end to the reign of Mswati III, who has been in power for 35 years. The protests have intensified since the end of June, and so has state repression. King Mswati III has allegedly since fled the country.

Civilians have been violently repressed by the security forces during the demonstrations. According to Amnesty International, at least 20 people have already been killed. Other media speak of 70 people. The authorities have also reportedly asked network providers to cut off the Internet to prevent the protests and repressions from being reported, which clearly threatens the right to information.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “Journalists, who play a key role in reporting on the violent repression of Eswatini security forces are deliberately being targeted and attacked. We call on the international community to address the serious human rights violations in Eswatini and to investigate all the attacks against media workers. Torturing journalists and shutting down the internet are serious attacks against freedom of information that cannot go unpunished.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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