Released into the big prison

mario maxwell1smAfter having spent over a year in prison awaiting trial for having shouted pro-democracy slogans, pro-democracy leaders Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini were granted bail Tuesday in the small absolute monarchy of Swaziland.

Masuku and Dlamini, both high-ranking members of banned pro-democracy party the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), are charged under Swaziland’s Suppression of Terrorism Act, an act that Amnesty International calls “inherently repressive”. They have previously applied for bail twice without success.

Pressure led to release
Mounting pressure for their release, combined with a crisis in the judiciary in Swaziland that has led to the sacking of the Chief Justice and the Minister of Justice and the subsequent release of two other pro-democracy advocates in June, may have paved the way for Masuku and Dlamini having been granted bail.

An international campaign for their release is supported by amongst others Amnesty International, the ANC, the Swaziland United Democratic Front, the International Trade Union Confederation as well as former anti-apartheid organisations ACTSA and Afrika Kontakt from the UK and Denmark respectively.

The Danish embassy, the UK Foreign Office and the Commenwealth have also raised the matter of Masuku and Dlamini’s case and imprisonment with the Swazi government, as has the former Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mogens Lykketoft, who will be the next President of the UN General Assembly.

Suffered more than enough
According to Swazi trade union leader Wonder Mkhonza, who knows both Masuku and Dlamini personally, they have already suffered more than enough in prison. “No one deserves such treatment”, he says.

Mario Masuku, who suffers from diabetes, has been seriously ill during his prison spell, but has been denied proper treatment. Maxwell Dlamini has previously been tortured by police while detained, and was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of his arrest in 2014.

Both have had to sleep on the floor in a small cell with as many as 35 other inmates.

Into the big prison
Although Masuku and Dlamini have now been released on bail, they still face the challenge of what Mario Masuku has called “the big prison that is Swaziland”.

These challenges include debilitating bail payments and legal expenses, gruelling bail conditions and continuous harassment of anyone who challenges the rule of absolute monarch Mswati III.

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