Mbabane: National Police Commissioner, William Tsintsibala Dlamini minced no words to say that the police would come hard on journalists who are hell-bent on writing negatively about the monarch.
He said the time has come where the law will take its course on those who are stiff-necked and rebelling against state authorities. Dlamini went on to criticise the growing of online publications, adding that they are the ones who are in the forefront and demonising the King. He further said he doesn’t understand their mandate-whether is to undermine the monarch. The National Commissioner went on to say that as police, they were conducting investigations to find out where are they hosted. Dlamini also urged publishers or owners of the online publications to voluntarily come to the police to detail their mandate or editorial policy.
NATCOM’s stern warning is coming in the wake of the detention of former Times of Eswatini journalists – Eugene Dube, who now plies his trade as an editor of Swati Newsweek Online publication. Dube was arrested by the Nhlangano police and hauled before Nhlangano Magistrate Thulani Dlamini on accusations of writing ill about His Majesty King Mswati III, an act which according to the police constitutes high treason. Dube indicated before the magistrate that he would consult with his lawyer.
In many countries high treason is the crime of disloyalty the head of state and is considered to be the most serious of offences (more than murder or other felonies), high treason is often met with extraordinary punishment, because it threatens the safety of the state.
Reportedly, two vans filled with plain clothed police officers came to his home in Nhlangano and asked to search his house. “They produced fraudulent court documents and proceeded to go into my house where they began their search,” said Dube. He said the documents bore a false identification, issuing a Dlamini whereas he is a Dube. “They seized three smart phones, laptop, charger, documents related to journalism and notebooks,” said Dube.
Dube said the police told him of two articles which they said were critical of the king and amounted to high treason. The first article ran a headline along the lines of the king being reckless on public health, from observations at the various health centres where there were long queues without the observation of the COVID-19 regulations which require ample space between people.
The second article was on the newly established political party called EFF Swaziland, which according to Dube calls for political and economic reform in the country. Dube said he felt totally harassed by the police since all his stories were attributed to his sources. He said the new political party, EFF Swaziland runs a Facebook page where they indicate their intentions, adding that the political party has been there long before they even wrote about them. He said as a publication they have a mandate to inform the public based on sources.
Dube said the government, and by extension the king, who is the direct employer of the civil service, diced with peoples’ lives by virtue of failure to instil strict measures pertaining to the observation of the COVID-19 Regulations. Dube said the police told him he should rather have written about the prime minister who is the head of government, and not the king, as such was tantamount to inciting the masses against his authority.
Dube said the police told him investigations were on-going and as soon as they were done they would call him again.
Dube’s arrest follows a declaration by the police that they want the Swaziland News editor, Zweli Martin Dlamini who is alleged to have perpetrated fake news about his Majesty the King. To this date Dlamini has not surrendered himself to the police neither are the police aware of his whereabouts. The police issued that anyone who knew about the editor’s locations and yet said nothing invited trouble for himself.
Following the reports of the detention of Dube, Economic Freedom Fighters of Swaziland (EEFSWA) issued a statement strongly condemning the phycological warfare by the Royal Eswatini Police for abusing power and demonising and torturing innocent journalists and its members during the critical time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The EFFSWA has noted with incredibility and great concern that Royal Eswatini police have engaged in an inhuman act of victimising journalists,” the statement reads in part.
In some countries sharing false or inaccurate information related to COVID-19 could expose one to severe consequences. Eswatini, like in other countries takes the violation of the Covid-19 regulations very seriously and offenders can brought to book and fined.
In the Republic of South African transport minister Fikile Mbalula laid charges against media personality Somizi Mhlongo against name dropping and misinformation after Mhlongo was heard on an Instagram live video pre-empting that the lockdown in that country would be extended by two weeks and that Mbalula had told him so. However, the matter was reportedly settled out of court and Mhlongo was left off the hook.
On Eswatini shores, Swaziland Shopping News Editor, Zweli “Zwermat” Dlamini who is on police’s wanted list stands to be charged if violation of Legal Notice No: 72 of 2020 of the Disaster Management Act No. 1 of 2006 of the coronavirus (COVID-19) Regulation, 2020 (Under section 43) is anything to go by.
This according to an impeccable source linked to the country’s justice system.
Dlamini is said to have falsely issued the covid-19 status of an individual on his online publication.
On spreading rumours or unauthenticated information on COVID -19, Section 29 (1) of the Disaster Management Act says a person or an institution or organization shall not-
(a) spread any rumour or unauthenticated information regarding COVID-19;
(b) use any print or electronic media for information regarding COVID-19 without prior permission of the Ministry of Health;
(c) publish any statement, through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person about – COVID-19;
(d) use print or electronic media on the COVID-19 infection status of any person; or
(e) spread of any rumour or unauthentic information regarding any measure taken by the Government to address COVID-19.
The Act says a person or an institution or organization that indulges in an activity that contravenes this Regulation commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand Emalangeni (E20, 000.00) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five (5) years.
Last week the police appealed for public assistance to locate controversial Swaziland News Editor saying he was needed to assist the police on their scope of work. Subsequent to the appeal the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) issued a statement condemning the ‘harrasment’ of the journalist.
Speaking through their Facebook page SSN spokesperson Lucky Lukhele said they condemn in the strongest possible terms the harassment of Dlamini, adding that as the SSN they see such as an intimidation of media workers aimed at bullying them into silence. “The only crime that Dlamini committed was to report about the King and the royal family’s corruption which angered the king,” Lukhele is quoted to have said.
Speaking to the Independent, News Police Information Communications Officer Phindile Vilakati said they can’t as yet disclose what the editor is specifically wanted for, but they request anyone who might know his whereabouts to call the police.
The Eswatini Observer quoted the Police PRO as saying if there could be any person residing or knowing the whereabouts of Dlamini but concealing such information, they might be inviting trouble for themselves.
Police officers to be contacted regarding Zweli Martin Dlamini’s where about are: Sam Mthembu at 7606 2316; Clement Sihlongonyane at 7612 7994 or Madlopha at 7605 7428; or the toll free emergency line 999.
Earlier on the Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini issued a public statement saying it is crucial that people have access to accurate information to impede the spread of the virus. False health measures and reports can impede public health officials’ ability to effectively impact peoples’ behaviour and curb the crisis.
Governments across the world and international health organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) are fighting to mitigate the harmful impact of false health information. Such efforts have included partnerships with social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and others to minimize the spread of misinformation but also, importantly, to prioritize and amplify accurate information about COVID-19 in regions across the globe.
According to online advocacy group Access Now, governments have implemented “cybercrime” and “fake news” laws that criminalize the spread of any information deemed to “threaten national security.” Infractions in countries such as Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, among others, can lead to jail sentences and hefty fines. If you are found guilty, the prison terms range from a minimum of 3-5 years, and in the UAE, up to life imprisonment. The group says it is vitally important to have access to accurate information, and any violation threatens the public health crisis.
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