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SANEF condemns the detention, assault and torture of journalists in Eswatini

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The South African National Editors’ Forum calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa and his regional counterparts to urgently demand that the government of Eswatini adhere to SADC media Freedom protocols.

SANEF is extremely concerned that on Sunday 4 July 2021, two New Frame journalists, Magnificent Mndebele and Cebelihle Mbuyisa, who were on assignment in Eswatini were detained, assaulted, and tortured by security forces. Mndebele and Mbuyisa were in Eswatini to report on the pro-democracy protests with a specific focus on the alleged state murders of citizens. While in the country, they were stopped at roadblocks on several occasions, threatened and forced to delete material from their phones and camera.

SANEF 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.

For decades, Eswatini’s security forces have been notorious for their brutality against journalists, trade unionists, students and other pro-democracy activists. The attempts to silence journalists and activists are aimed, among other things, at trying to prevent the scale of the suffering of the people of Eswatini from being conveyed to people outside the country. We have also noted the blackout of the internet, which we equally condemn as a stringent measure meant to silence the voices of the citizenry, and inconvenience all.

SANEF is concerned about the safety of journalists and media workers which continues to be a huge challenge with increasing reports of attacks such as arbitrary arrest and detention, jailing, physical assault, which are used as weapons to silence critical journalism covering unrests in Eswatini.

We believe that SADC governments should show a stronger political will to protect journalists and independent journalism to put a stop to the deterioration of media freedom in the region.

Media freedom is an essential pillar of our democracies in the region which is too often taken for granted. Respect for freedom of the media in Eswatini has disappeared overnight due to the lack of the government conscience to defend human rights. In the last years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of cases of violence and intimidation against journalists.

We wish to remind the government of Eswatini of its commitment to media-friendly policies based on the August 1995 SADC declaration on Information and Communication. It undertook to remove systems and procedures that restrict the free movement of journalists, the exchange of news and information and the circulation of media products within the countries and across national boundaries of the countries of the SADC Community. It also recognises accreditation documents issued by any SADC Member State to media personnel to cover events and news in the other Member States, of the Community.

Key South African news organisations including the public broadcaster (SABC), as well as Newzroom Afrika have had to pull their journalists out of the country due to the ongoing attacks and intimidation on their journalists.

We, therefore, call on SADC leaders to embrace the principles of free access to information. We point the leaders to the letter we co-signed with key media partners including the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), calling for media freedom to be upheld and journalists to be protected.

Note to Editors: The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. We are committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. We promote excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research and education and training programmes. SANEF is not a union.

For more information please contact:

Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Chairperson (073) 404-1415

Adriaan Basson – SANEF Deputy Chairperson (082) 562-2113

Mahlatse Mahlase – Secretary General (083) 399-2852

Nwabisa Makunga – Treasurer (082) 555-1972

Mary Papayya – SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957

Asanda Ngoasheng – Western Cape Convenor – 082 610-9374

Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor (082) 571-3334

Katy Katopodis – SANEF Gauteng Convenor (082) 805-7022

Chiara Carter – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (082) 659-9162

Reggy Moalusi – SANEF Executive Director (071) 682-3695

Twitter: @SAEditorsForum

Email: [email protected] Website: www.sanef.org.za