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Human rights activist slams Taiwan's support for Eswatini's 'dictatorship'

Swazi activist calls on Taiwan to support transition to democracy at Taipei forum

President Tsai Ing-wen meets with King Mswati III in Eswatini in September. (Presidential Office photo)

President Tsai Ing-wen meets with King Mswati III in Eswatini in September. (Presidential Office photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The widow of a prominent Swazi human rights lawyer and pro-democracy leader said that Taiwan is aiding a dictatorship, and called on the Taiwan government and its people to help Eswatini achieve democracy.

Speaking at the Olso Freedom Forum in Taipei on Wednesday (Oct. 18), Tanele Maseko delivered a strong condemnation of Taiwan’s support for Eswatini’s government as led by King Mswati III. Maseko’s husband – a prominent critic of the Eswatini government until his death – was killed by gunmen in his home in January in an attack colleagues say was ordered by the king.

Formerly named Swaziland, Eswatini is one of Taiwan’s 13 remaining formal diplomatic allies, and substantial Taiwanese aid is provided to the country. President Tsai Ing-wen was received by Mswati during a state visit to Eswatini last month, after which she lauded the strengthening of bilateral ties.

Maseko said this relationship was surprising, and that Taiwan’s aid supports the reign of a dictator. “If Taiwan claims to be a democracy, if Taiwan supports and values the rule of law, then Taiwan will help the people of Swaziland,” she said.

Political parties have been banned in the country since the early 1970s, and the king rules Africa's last absolute monarchy. A 2022 U.S. government report on the country’s human rights record noted credible reports of government killings, cruel treatment, political detention, and heavy censorship.

Human rights activist slams Taiwan's support for Eswatini's 'dictatorship'
Tanele Maseko speaks in front of an image of her deceased husband in Taipei on Wednesday. (YouTube, Oslo Freedom Forum image)

Maseko said Taiwan should pressure the country’s king to allow political parties to exist, and to free all political prisoners. “The king must open up a space for an all-inclusive dialogue, where all Swazis will sit at a round table and be a democracy,” she said.

"No amount of prison, no amount of torture or violence, and certainly no amount of death will silence us," Maseko said.

Taiwan News put Maseko’s comments to Taiwan’s foreign ministry, which provided a statement on Thursday that said bilateral cooperation based on the “Taiwan Model” would continue with the Eswatini government and people. A spokesperson said the Taiwan Model refers to “cooperation and assistance that prioritizes promoting people's well-being.”