Two activists from Swaziland said Tuesday they are worried about their safety after the Swazi prime minister reportedly said they should be strangled for traveling to Washington during a recent summit of African leaders.
Labor leader Vincent Ncongwane and lawyer Sipho Gumedze appeared at a news conference in Johannesburg to express their concern but did not say when they plan to return to the southern African kingdom. They called for free expression in Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch.
“We have the intention to go home,” Gumedze said. “There is no guarantee that we will be safe.”
He said he and Ncongwane were unlikely to get a fair trial in the event of prosecution, and that he was also concerned about eviction from his rural home if traditional leaders act on the remark by the prime minister, Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini.
The prime minister told lawmakers last week that union leaders had gone to Washington without announcing their plans, the Times of Swaziland reported.
“They leave your constituencies and do not even inform you where they are going, and once they come back and you find out that they are from your constituency, you must strangle them,” the newspaper quoted Dlamini as saying.
The Swazi Observer later reported that Dlamini had retracted his remark.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf had criticized Dlamini’s remark, saying it had a “chilling effect on labor and civil rights” in Swaziland.
Mswati, the Swazi king, attended the Washington summit last week, which was hosted by President Barack Obama and brought together leaders from more than 50 African nations.
In June, citing human rights concerns, the United States said it was withdrawing Swaziland from a group of African countries that get duty-free access to the American market for their products.
Last month, two other government critics in Swaziland were sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of contempt of court for publishing articles lamenting alleged threats to judicial independence.
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