On May 13, 2022, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in an apparent attempt to disperse a peaceful protest march organized by the Swaziland National Union of Students commemorating the anniversary of the killing of a student.
On May 13, 2021, the body of Thabani Nkomonye, a law student at the University of Eswatini, was found by his family off the side of a road. Nkomonye’s death sparked nationwide protests and students accused police of killing Nkomonye. A week before the anniversary of Nkomonye’s murder, a special inquiry announced that it had cleared the police of any wrongdoing in Nkomonye’s death.
As many as 2,000 protesters, including students and activists, planned to march to the Manzini Regional Commissioner where they would deliver a petition rejecting the findings of the inquiry. While the protest was reportedly peaceful, police, in an apparent effort to disperse those marching, deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets, striking four protesters. Some protesters reportedly threw stones at police while others fled. One tear gas canister emitted fumes into a primary school.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of rubber bullets and tear gas to restrict students and activists peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to which Eswatini is a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain order and safety, they must do so in a manner that is proportionate and does not violate fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The use of rubber bullets and tear gas to restrict peaceful student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)