Swaziland: Protest mass arrests of trade unionists

On Tuesday 12 April 2011, the Swazi authorities responded with brutal repression and hundreds of arrests to peaceful protest actions from workers and pro-democracy activists. The offices of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) were raided, and the General Secretary of the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL) was arrested, among many others. The violence used by the authorities was hugely disproportionate, and the Swazi government has threatened not to allow trade union activities anymore in the future. The protests, which were announced correctly and well in advance, and conducted in a peaceful way to support legitimate demands for more democratic rights for Swaziland’s impoverished citizens, were suppressed by heavily armed police and military, which occupied the city of Manzini as well as other important centres with ostentatious display of power. In doing so, they used teargas against protestors, arrested hundreds of people, among which at least twenty two trade union leaders, and there are even reports that live ammunition was fired. Repression was particularly vigourous in the city of Manzini, where paramilitary police in full riot gear, including shields and rifles, marched through the streets. In the course of the morning, hundreds of people were arrested, and four trade union activists were still missing on 15 April. Furthermore, security forces started arresting everyone wearing a political party T-shirt or cap. Students at the Swaziland Kwaluseni Campus were confined to the campus, which amounts to arrest.

Simultaneaously, the offices of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, the Swazi National Association of Teachers and the National Public Services and Allied Workers Union were raided by heavily armed security forces. The police started to use rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. It started preventing all buses from going to the meeting points and started to arrest all the people on them, reportedly even without checking whether they were going to take part in the demonstrations or not. A number of buses was even driven to far away forests or the mountainous region on the border with South Africa, and the activists who were on them were left in remote places without transportation. The authorities at one point even sent in the Red Berets, a special Swazi Army branch. In and around four protest centres, including the bus rank in Manzini and the Swazi National Association of Teachers Centre, there were numerous skirmishes, with security forces dispersing the crowds, who subsequently regrouped, time and again. The army eventually declared a curfew in Manzini, ordering the people to empty the city’s streets after 9 pm.The International Trade Union Confederatoin firmly protested to the Swazi government and invites you to do the same.

Act Now!, Apr 21 2011

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