Youth league President acquitted of terrorist charges in absolute monarchy

Bheki Dlamini, President of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), the youth wing of Swaziland’s largest illegal political party PUDEMO, and former education and mobilizing officer of the Foundation for Socio Economic Justice, has been acquitted of charges of terrorism and released from prison today after a protracted trial that saw him spending over three years in prison.

Speaking to a crowd that had gathered at Sidwashini Prison, waiting for his release, Bheki said “me walking out of prison does not mean freedom. This was a small jail and I’m walking out to a bigger jail until we attain freedom. Comrades let’s go work.”

Whilst happy that Bheki had been released, one of his lawyers, Mary Da Silva, called it a “tragedy that Bheki has been robbed of so many years while he remained imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.” Bheki’s co-accused, Zonke Dlamini, was found guilty and will be sentenced on Friday.

The state had charged Bheki (and Zonke) under the Swaziland Terrorism Act – an act that defines terrorism in very broad terms – for planting petrol bombs in police officers and MP’s houses between April and June 2010. SWAYOCO and the rest of the democratic movement were convinced of his innocence and had claimed all along that he was being framed.

Bheki was refused bail in 2010 because the state claimed that the trial would be swift, but the trial ended up taking well over three years, not least because of several dubious postponements. He went on a hunger strike in July 2013 to protest the many delays to his case.

Many other political prisoners like Bheki remain either imprisoned awaiting trial, where many of them are tortured, or on seemingly indefinite bail in Swaziland.

Bheki Dlamini for one maintains that he was tortured by the police in order to make him confess. “For over an hour, or even more, I would be suffocated by use of a rubber tube, plastic bag and surgical gloves. I was suffocated to the extent that I soiled myself and I was in no position to deny anything I was told to admit,” he said in 2010. Amnesty International also specifically mentioned Bheki Dlamini’s torture by the police in its 2011 annual report.

But Swaziland’s youth are adamant that they will continue to struggle until they have achieved democracy and socio-economic justice.  “Peace, justice and human dignity is what we seek. As we do so, we are prepared to face the consequences of speaking that we deserve to be in charge of our destiny,” SWAYOCO member Mcolisi Ngcamphalala said, commenting on the acquittal of his President.

Read the judgement here.

Read more here, here and here.

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