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Journalists 'beaten and detained' in Eswatini while covering protests

05 July 2021 - 17:35 By TimesLIVE
Two journalists covering protests in Eswatini were allegedly forced to delete material off their phones and cameras. Stock photo.
Two journalists covering protests in Eswatini were allegedly forced to delete material off their phones and cameras. Stock photo.

Two journalists for Johannesburg-based non-profit publication New Frame were “detained, assaulted and tortured” while covering pro-democracy protests in Eswatini, the title said on Monday.

It said that the country's security forces were responsible for the actions against reporters Magnificent Mndebele and Cebelihle Mbuyisa, who were focusing particularly on allegations of “state murder of citizens”.

In a statement on its Facebook page, New Frame said the pair were repeatedly stopped at roadblocks, threatened and forced to delete material from their phones and camera.

“On Thursday July 1, Mbuyisa received a WhatsApp message, explicitly presented as a warning, from a person known to be close to the royal family, who said that he should “not make any movements”.

“Shortly after 9am on Sunday, the two were stopped by soldiers on the MR3 highway near the town of Matsapha while returning from the funeral of Vincent Bhembe in Ngculwini. Bhembe was allegedly shot by security forces on June 30 and died in hospital the following day.

“New Frame’s journalists were threatened at gunpoint, their cameras were seized and they were forced to delete important footage and photographs from the funeral, including interviews with people who had been shot and injured. Mndebele and Mbuyisa were then taken to the nearby Sigodvweni police station, where they were interrogated and assaulted with punches and kicks.

“Plastic bags were placed over their heads to suffocate them. This act, sometimes described as 'tubing', is globally recognised as a form of torture. In SA, it was widely used by apartheid security forces and continues to be used against grassroots activists in police stations today,” the statement read.

After lawyers were alerted to the detention, the publication said the pair were released about six hours later.

“Following their release, Mndebele and Mbuyisa were taken to hospital. They were warned that it would be too dangerous to head for the border that night as police, soldiers and correctional officers were positioned at multiple roadblocks along the main highways. They spent the night in Mbabane, where they were given refuge and cared for by an ordinary citizen who works as a cleaner.”

Finally, at about 3.30pm on Monday, the reporters were able to cross the border back to SA and “are now safe”.

“They have risked their personal safety to report on how the people of Eswatini are risking their lives to fight an oppressive state — and the price that has been paid for that resistance,” the publication said.

“New Frame condemns the detention, assault and torture of Mndebele and Mbuyisa in the strongest terms and calls for international solidarity with all journalists and activists facing repression in Eswatini, and for the immediate restoration of democratic freedoms in that country, including the right to a free press.”