On January 31, 2022, plain-clothes security officers from the Criminal Investigations Department arrested Colani Maseko, the President of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) and a student at the Southern African Nazarene University (SANU), while he was en route to the university. Maseko played an active role in pro-democracy protests that began in 2021.
Security officers also reportedly arrested Sibusiso Nkwanyane, the campaign officer of SNUS, who was recording a video of Maseko’s arrest on his phone. According to an NSUS statement mentioned in reporting by Peoples Dispatch, police officers interrogated and tortured Nkwanyane while he was in custody, before releasing him without charge.
On February 1, authorities charged Maseko with “sedition” and “malicious injury to property.” The charges stem from accusations that, on or around November 29, 2021, Maseko removed from campus and vandalized portraits of King Mswati III and Thandokuhle Mdziniso, a pastor and associate of the royal family; vandalized a gate and two padlocks reportedly owned by Mdiziniso; and “encouraged people to disobey the lawfully placed head of state’s [King Mswati III] portrait.” On February 4, authorities released Maseko on bail of E15,000 (roughly $950 USD).
In response to the charges, the university met with the police and publicly announced that those involved in property damage had not been identified and that “no intent to injure Mr. Thandokuhle Mdziniso was committed [by Maseko].” Maseko has also denied the charges.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and prosecution of a student in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association—conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting expressive activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions intended to restrict nonviolent expressive activity on campus undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
UPDATE: This report was updated with additional information regarding the charges against Maseko and the source describing allegations of torture suffered by Nkwanyane.