Monday, September 25, 2017

POLICE SPIES BACK ON THE STREETS



Police in Swaziland disguised as news reporters have been spying on prodemocracy activists, a newspaper reported.

It is only one incident in a long history of spying in the kingdom that includes members of parliament, pensioners and journalists as victims.

The Sunday Observer in Swaziland reported (24 September 2017) that plain-clothed undercover police were at a march of public servants in the Swazi capital Mbabane on Wednesday.

The newspaper called it ‘spying’ and said it had happened before at other public demonstrations, ‘They [police] are always plain clothed and carry traditional journalistic tools including cameras and notebooks,’ the newspaper reported.

It added police took video and still photographs of marchers. The newspaper speculated that these might be used to later track down and intimidate participants. The march was legal.

A police spokesman said they were not spying because the march took place in a public place.

Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has a long history of spying by police, Army and state forces. In Swaziland political parties are banned from taking part in elections and prodemocracy advocates are prosecuted under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

In June 2017, some senior politicians in Swaziland reported fears their phones were being tapped. One also thought his car might be bugged.
 
In July 2013 it was reported that police in Swaziland were spying on the kingdom’s members of parliament. One officer disguised in plain clothes was thrown out of a workshop for MPs and one MP reported his phone has been bugged. Ntondozi MP Peter Ngwenya told the House of Assembly at the time that MPs lived in fear because there was constant police presence, in particular from officers in the Intelligence Unit. 

The Times of Swaziland newspaper reported at the time that at the same sitting of the House Lobamba MP Majahodvwa Khumalo said his cellphone had been bugged ever since he started being ‘vocal against some people’. 

In May 2013, the Media Institute of Southern Africa reported that police spies had infiltrated journalism newsrooms in Swaziland, which had led to a heightened climate of fear. 

It is legal in certain circumstances to tap phones in Swaziland. The Suppression of Terrorism Act gives police the right to listen in on people’s conversations if they have the permission of the Attorney General.

When the Act came into law in 2008 Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini said that anyone who criticised the government could be considered a terrorist sympathiser.

In 2011, a journalist working in Swaziland for the AFP international news agency reported on her blog that her phone calls were being listened in to. 

In 2012, it came to light that the Swaziland Army had attempted to buy cameras and phone monitoring equipment worth US$1.25 million. The Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF) – the formal name of the Swaziland Army – was sued  in the Swaziland High Court because it ordered the equipment, but did not pay for it.

The equipment was known as GSM Option: Voice Intercept or delivery and SMS (Short Message Service) Intercept or delivery, as well as spy cameras and alarm systems, the Times of Swaziland reported at the time. 

The equipment could be used against the civilian population in Swaziland. The Voice Intercept equipment is marketed as a tool to monitor and record live phone conversations, which, according to one supplier called SyTech Corporation, the equipment can be a valuable asset to any agency and investigation. It, ‘delivers the evidence that makes the case while protecting officers’ safety’. 

The GSM equipment is designed to monitor mobile phones. This type of equipment is widely available across the world. Another supplier listed the main use as, ‘following a person’s activities and staying undetected’. 

The equipment records all information on the phone as it happens and records ‘phone events’. It can spy on SMS text messages, on web browser activities and call logs (inbound and outbound). It can also track the phone’s location using GPS.

It was, one supplier said, ‘100 percent undetectable and you can spy on unlimited [number of] phones.’

The Swaziland Army ordered equipment worth about E10 million (US$1.25 million at the then exchange rate) from Naspoti J & M Security Solutions, in Nelspruit, South Africa, the Swazi High Court heard, but cancelled the order just as the company was ready to deliver.  No reason was given to the court for the cancellation but, then as today the Swazi Government was broke and struggling to pay its bills, including public sector salaries.

The revelation came at a time of growing activity in the kingdom to force King Mswati to democratise. All political parties and opposition groups are banned and the King controls the parliament and judiciary.

This was not the first time that the Swazi ruling elite has been found trying to spy on the King’s subjects. In August 2011, Wikileaks published a cable from the US Embassy in Swaziland that revealed the Swazi Government had tried to get MTN, the only mobile phone provider in the kingdom, to use its network for ‘surveillance on political dissidents’.

Tebogo Mogapi, the MTN chief executive officer (CEO) in Swaziland, refused to comply and later did not have his work permit renewed and so had to leave the kingdom.

See also

TOP SWAZI POLITICIANS’ ‘PHONES BUGGED’

STATE POLICE SPY ON SWAZI MPs

POLICE SPIES INFILTRATE MEDIA
 
AFP JOURNALIST’S PHONE BUGGED

STATE POLICE SPY ON SWAZI MPs

SECURITY FORCES ‘SPY ON CANDIDATES’

POLICE SPIES INFILTRATE MEDIA

KING USES MILITARY FOR OWN FEUD

Saturday, September 23, 2017

KING MISLEADS UN ON SWAZI FREEDOM



Only days after it was learnt that people who criticise King Mswati of Swaziland face two years’ jail, the King misled the UN General Assembly saying that ‘all citizens’ have the opportunity to air their views.

King Mswati was speaking at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday (20 September 2017).

The King who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch in a kingdom where political parties are banned from contesting elections and prodemocracy campaigners are prosecuted under the Suppression of Terrorism Act, said, ‘The kingdom of eSwatini [Swaziland] is committed to peace and a decent life for all. We are also firm believers in the principle of consultative decision-making. This involves a transparent and all-inclusive undertaking that grants every citizen an opportunity to voice their views in order to constructively contribute to the social, economic, cultural and political development of the country.’

He did not say that his unelected government had just passed the Public Order Act. This allows for critics of the King or the Swazi Government to be fined E10,0000 (US$770), imprisoned for two years or both for inciting ‘hatred or contempt’ against cultural and traditional heritage. In Swaziland seven out of ten people have incomes less than US$2 a day.

The Act also targets gatherings of 50 or more people in a public place where policy actions or criticisms of any government or organisation are made.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom where reporting the activities of King Mswati and his family is severely restricted, reported, ‘These gatherings could be those which are convened or held to form pressure groups, to hand over petitions to any person or to mobilise or demonstrate support for or opposition to the views, principles, policy, actions or omissions of any person, organisation including any government administration or institution. 

‘The Act states that to avoid any doubt people who also speak ill or incite hatred against the cultural and traditional heritage of the country could be those who are involved in a picket or protest action. 

‘Other acts that carry a similar penalty also include a person who trashes, burns or otherwise destroys, defaces or defiles or damages any national insignia or emblem. The nation insignia or other emblem has been defined by the Act as any weaving, embroidery, sewing, drawing, picture, illustration and painting which represents His Majesty, the Indlovukati [King’s mother], national flag or Swaziland Coat of Arms.’

Swaziland has been criticised by many international groups for its lack of democracy.
The Swazi people are only allowed to select 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, the other 10 are appointed by the King. None of the 30 members of the Swaziland Senate are elected by the people: the King appoints 20 members and the other 10 are appointed by the House of Assembly.

In 2016, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre reported all opposition to the rule of the King Mswati is treated as ‘terrorism’.

In 2015, the United States withdrew trading benefits under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) because of Swaziland’s poor record on human rights.

International human rights organisations Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2016, said ‘The Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938, and other similarly draconian legislation provided sweeping powers to the security services to halt meetings and protests and to curb criticism of the government, even though such rights are protected under Swaziland’s 2005 constitution.’

The STA was ‘regularly used’ by the police to interfere in trade union activities, Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) said in a submission to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in 2015.

Amnesty International has criticised of Swaziland for the ‘continued persecution of peaceful political opponents and critics’ by the King and his authorities. It said the Swazi authorities were using the Acts, ‘to intimidate activists, further entrench political exclusion and to restrict the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly’.

In September 2016 Swaziland’s High Court ruled that sections of the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act were unconstitutional. The Government is appealing the ruling.


See also

JAIL FOR DEFACING PICTURE OF KING

OPPOSITION TO KING IS ‘TERRORISM’

SWAZILAND LAST ON POLITICAL FREEDOM

REPORT TELLS UN OF RIGHTS ABUSES

COURT: TERROR ACT UNCONSTITUTIONAL