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Arrested for sporting a union logo: Swaziland

A schoolteacher in Swaziland waiting for a bus was arrested last week just for carrying a bag with the logo of the newly united union confederation TUCOSWA, the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland. Wandile Ndlela was approached by uniformed police officers at the Satellite Bus Rank in Manzini, the main commercial city in the kingdom.

This is the sort of harassment that is all too common in Africa's last feudal monarchy, and it's the sort of outrageous restriction of freedom of association and freedom of speech that has led to international trade union calls for the Kingdom to be suspended from the Commonwealth.

TUCOSWA was recently deregistered by the Swazi Government after it called for a boycott of national elections due to be held next year. But it is not a banned organisation like the political parties which are proscribed by law. The Human Rights Centre, Swaziland, said in a statement that police officers led Ndlela to the police post situated at the bus rank where he was briefly detained, before being taken to regional police headquarters in Manzini.

There he was interrogated by senior police officers, who wanted to know where he had taken the bag from; and why it had the TUCOSWA inscription. When he tried to ask if he had done anything wrong, they curtly told him that he knew that TUCOSWA was banned by the state (which is untrue), and he should not be carrying the bag. After a lengthy interrogation he was released without any formal charges being laid against him. But before releasing him, the state police recorded his details, his place of residence and place of work and gave him his bag back before warning him never to carry it.

The Human Rights Centre said the case ‘illustrates the level of police impunity in the violation of fundamental rights’ taking place in Swaziland. It added, ‘Despite the many cases of police violence and brutality reported almost daily, there is no record of prosecution of any police officer for human rights violations.’

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