MANZINI: King Mswati allegedly ordered mobile telecommunications operators in eSwatini to switch-off the internet to enable his soldiers to intensify a crackdown on protesters.
But the Swaziland News Investigation Unit is now in possession of more electronic evidence that implicates the King and Army Generals in crimes against humanity.
According to political parties, civil society and security insiders, over one hundred(100) people were killed during the recent pro-democracy protests. However, over seventy(70) people have been confirmed dead so far and identified, others are believed to have been killed and secretly buried or thrown into fire by security forces.
The video that was allegedly recorded on or around 29th June 2021 also reveals protestors who subsequently looted shops inside the Manzini city exposes how Mswati who is subject of an investigation by international human rights organizations disregarded the Public Order Act by using military equipment against unarmed civilians. In one of the videos, the army helicopter is seen moving from one house to another, before going-up again to get an ariel view of what was happening in the whole city.
Speaking to this publication, human rights lawyer Sibusiso Nhlabatsi said soldiers were normally deployed at an armed conflict not in a protest adding that the shutting down of the internet was meant to perpetrate impunity during the killing of civilians.
“Soldiers are deployed at an armed conflict, they don’t deal with civilians. What happened in Swaziland was never an armed conflict, it was a protest for political reforms, so the intervention of the army was unlawful in the first place. By shutting down the internet while the army was brutalizing people, they wanted to take away the last line of defense for the people. The people used the internet to share pictures to the world hoping that those who were brutalizing them would exercise restraint knowing that what they were doing would be known” ,said the human rights lawyer.
In the midst of this investigation last week, it later emerged that many companies and individuals whose private homes had security cameras are in possession of critical videos, some were shared with this investigative journalist.
“I would advise that you don’t share some of these videos for now, keep it as your evidence, they might be used to substantiate a case that indeed people were brutalized by the army. Soldiers were not supposed to be there in the first place”,said a businessman who assisted with some of the evidence.
Reached for comments, Lieutenant Tengetile Khumalo, the Spokesperson of the Umbutfo Eswatini Defense Force(UEDF) asked this investigative journalist to share the video first before she could comment.
“Kindly share the video”, said the Army Spokesperson.
Reached for comments, Wandile Dludlu, the Secretary of the People’s United Democratic Movement(PUDEMO) said it was wrong in the first place for soldiers to be deployed during the protests.
“Soldiers were trained to kill during a war not for riot control. Ordinarily, it is supposed to be the police who maintain law and order. If you throw a stone to the police, they were trained how to control that situation but if you do that to a soldier, they interpret that as a war and they kill. So, because we are living in a dictatorship State where those in power do not have a relationship with the people, they use force against them”, said the PUDEMO Secretary General.
On 02 July 2021, Nompilo Morafo, the MTN Group Executive for Corporate Affairs and Sustainability confirmed through a media statement sent to this Swaziland News that Government through the Eswatini Communication Commission(ECC) ordered Eswatini MTN to shut down the internet.
“MTN confirms that it’s subsidiary, MTN Eswatini, along with other operators received a directive from the Eswatini Communication Commission(ECC) to suspend access to social media and online platforms until otherwise informed. After assessing the request, and in compliance with MTN’s license conditions and in accordance with MTN’s group-wide Digital Human Rights due diligence framework, MTN Eswatini has implemented the directive.
MTN Eswatini will continue engaging with the relevant stakeholders to limit the duration of the service disruption”, MTN Group said in a statement.
The statement from MTN Group came after Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku denied that the internet was shutdown by the Government but blamed protesters for targeting structures and or properties that resulted to the disruption.
But the Institute for Democracy and Leadership(IDEAL) subsequently filed an urgent court application to force the Government and service providers that include MTN to reinstate the internet, MTN Group confirmed being cited in the court application but clarified that the company remained committed to respecting human rights.
“MTN Group is committed to respecting human rights and endeavours to protect the rights of all people who use our services in the jurisdiction in which we operate in accordance with global defined standards”,she said.
It has been disclosed that apart from the incident contained in the video where civilians were attacked in Manzini after the internet was disconnected, soldiers and the police were ordered to intensify the killing of civilians both in the rural and urban areas.
In a statement sent to this Swaziland News, Access Now, an international organization whose mandate is to ensure the right of citizens to have access to internet among others condemned government for shutting down the internet.
A picture taken from a video where the army was attacking civilians.