Two South African journalists were detained and “tortured” by security forces while on assignment in eSwatini, which has been hit by deadly pro-democracy protests, their publication said Monday.
Cebelihle Mbuyisa, 28, and Magnificent Mndebele, 24, were detained on Sunday by soldiers along a highway near the central town of Matsapha while returning from covering the funeral of a man who was allegedly shot by security forces during the protests, their non-profit publication New Frame said.
They “were detained, assaulted and tortured by security forces,” said their employer in a statement, adding that “plastic bags were placed over their heads to suffocate them”.
The pair “were threatened at gunpoint, their cameras were seized” and they were forced to delete footage and photographs from the funeral, including interviews with people who were shot and injured.
After legal intervention, they were released and returned home on Monday.
Protesters in eSwatini last week ramped up their campaign for political reform in the tiny landlocked country, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, formerly known as Swaziland.
The government deployed the army to disperse the crowds and unverified videos emerged of beatings by security forces.
Local civil society and opposition groups have claimed several dozens were killed.
Amnesty International last said “at least 20 people are confirmed to have been killed” by security forces.
But the government has so far said it has not received an official report of any deaths.
Internet service providers said they had been ordered to cut access to social media and online platforms until further notice.
Shops were closed during the violence but some were slowly reopening Monday, according to an AFP correspondent in the capital Mbabane.
A dusk-to-dawn curfew remains in place, with a heavy police presence on the streets.
Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku on Monday said “the situation on the ground has stabilised, as our security forces have ensured the maintenance of peace and order across all regions”.
Meanwhile a panel of envoys from the regional bloc SADC visited the kingdom on Sunday on a fact-finding mission.
“This was an initial mission and an urgent one,” SADC told AFP, adding that they held talks with government officials as well as religious and civil society groups.
The emissaries led by Botswana Foreign Minister Lemohang Kwape, will return for “detailed interactions”.
During his weekly prayers in the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Francis called “upon those in authority and …to make a joint effort for dialogue, and reconciliation”.