Friday, September 10, 2010

Zimbabwe Activist Banned for Five Years From Entering Swaziland

A leading Zimbabwe democracy activist has been banned from entering Swaziland for the next five years, after he was arrested on Tuesday taking part in a protest to mark the Global Day of Action in Manzini.
32 year-old John Vincent Chikwari, acting President of the Revolutionary Youth Movement of Zimbabwe, was in Swaziland for meetings and protests organized by a broad coalition of groups campaigning for political change in that country.

Chikwari was plucked by the police from among hundreds of marchers and detained for 24 hours until he appeared in court on Wednesday, where he faced charges of inciting violence after he was accused of illegally addressing members of the youth movement of Swaziland on Tuesday. He was released on R1,500 bail.

A statement read out in court from the Home Affairs ministry said Chikwari had also been banned from entering the country for five years for allegedly interfering with Swazi affairs.

'My lawyer was able to challenge this ban, so we will be back in court to fight this charge on the 20th September. Swaziland, under King Mswati III, has become a despotic and repressive state that is harassing and jailing pro-democracy activists,' Chikwari said.

Chikwari, the architect behind ZIMafia, a cheeky campaign that put Zimbabwe's elite military junta under the spotlight during the World Cup in South Africa, was warned if he ever defied the five year ban, he would face more serious charges of treason.

'In the interim before my court date, Swazi authorities said they will charge me with trying to overthrow the government if I come back to the country. This is clear evidence there is decline in democratic space in Swaziland,' Chikwari said.

He accused the Swazi authorities of running a police state as they had a profile of all his activities in South Africa, from being a human rights defender to the ZIMafia campaign.

'To say I was shocked with the information they have on me is an understatement. They literally know what I've been up to in the last two years in South Africa. This clearly shows they are not comfortable with a person like me talking to pro-democratic forces in their country,' he said.

Human rights activists this week raised alarm at the serious deterioration of the situation in Swaziland where there have been many arbitrary arrests, detentions and malicious prosecutions of rights defenders, the suppression of democratic activity and voices; and a stubborn refusal to respect the fundamental right of citizens to participate in the governance of their country.

Police in Swaziland have since Monday arrested hundreds of people before, and during, protests against the continent's last absolute monarchy. Most of those detained were later freed, while several others were prevented from taking part in the march and deported.

Among those deported was Solomon Chikohwero, founder member of the MDC Veterans' Activists Association. The Johannesburg based Chikohwero told us he was simply taking pictures of the protests when he was arrested and taken into detention.

'I was interrogated for seven hours but much of what they asked me was nonsense. At one time they asked me why I had the audacity to try and overthrow King Mswati when it was apparent I had failed to do that to Robert Mugabe. That was absolute nonsense; our job is to stand in solidarity with pro-democracy activists in the region. Our agenda is to push for reforms but not regime change,' Chikohwero said.

The militant Chikohwero was however released without charge. He was driven to the Swazi border with South Africa, where he was dumped.

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