Authorities in Eswatini must immediately investigate the brutal assault by correctional officers on Nomthandazo Maseko, a reporter for the privately owned news website Swati Newsweek, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
At noon on February 8, about 20 correctional services staff in Matsapha, a town about 22 miles from the capital Mbabane, assaulted the journalist, according to Maseko and her editor, Eugene Dube, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and a report by her employer. Maseko was assaulted after livestreaming a protest on Swati Newsweek’s Facebook page by members of the Swaziland Liberation Movement (Swalimo) activist group outside the local prison where two pro-democracy members of parliament have been detained since their arrest on July 25, 2021.
When officers spotted her in her car, they hauled her out, slapped, kicked, beat her with sticks, and an unidentified officer pointed a gun at her and threatened to shoot, Maseko told CPJ, adding that she lost her two cell phones during the beating.
“Eswatini police must investigate the vicious assault on reporter Nomthandazo Maseko and ensure that the prison officers responsible are brought to justice,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, from New York. “A prison visit by pro-democracy activists is a legitimate news story, and to violently attack a journalist for being on the scene is unacceptable and must not be condoned by authorities.”
Maseko and Dube told CPJ that Maseko had worked for Swati Newsweek for less than a month and her only other coverage was a livestream when she covered a student protest on February 3.
Maseko said Swalimo members gathered outside the prison after they were denied permission to visit the two members of parliament, who have been charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and contravening COVID-19 regulations during pro-democracy protests last year.
On February 8, the protesters sang songs and listened to statements by their leaders, only to be violently dispersed when prison warders charged at them and began to beat those who were unable to run to safety, she said.
In a 13-second video after the protest which was also livestreamed on the publication’s Facebook page, Maseko says, “Mama, they (officers) are now beating someone,” before the broadcast was abruptly cut. Then she was the forcibly taken out of her vehicle and assaulted by officers.
“As they were beating me, they kept asking questions like ‘Why did you come here? Do you think this is your grandparents’ house?’” Maseko told CPJ.
The officers then took Maseko behind a market, where they were beating protesters, and told her to lie down, the journalist told CPJ. At some point, she was ordered to run, and when she did, officers began assaulting her and pushed her to the ground. When she objected, another jailer pointed a firearm at her, Maseko said.
On instructions from the correctional services officers, an unidentified man drove her out of the prison vicinity, and she was dropped off near some protesters who had fled to safety, Maseko said.
Maseko sought medical attention at a state-run hospital first, which declined to treat her beyond giving her painkillers. At a second hospital, she was treated, and they found she suffered tissue injuries and was badly bruised, according to Maseko and a medical report reviewed by CPJ.
“The attack on our brave reporter Nomthandazo Maseko was totally unjust. She was mercilessly brutalized for just carrying out her job and sadly, she sustained injuries and lost her two phones and one of them is what she has been using to work,” Dube told CPJ. “We challenge King Mswati to speak out against these attacks on independent journalists.”
CPJ repeatedly called and text messaged Guguleth Shongwe-Dlamini, a correctional services public relations officer, for comment, but no one picked up the phone and the messages were unanswered.