eSwatini opens 'terror' trial for pro-democracy MPs

Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube pleaded innocent to all the charges, which could see them imprisoned for 20 years if convicted.

FILE: The trial is set to last three days at the Mbabane High Court, where they stand accused of inciting protests. Picture: Supplied.

MBABANE - Two pro-democracy lawmakers went on trial on "terrorism" and murder charges on Tuesday in eSwatini, in the absolute monarchy's latest move to quash dissent.

Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube pleaded innocent to all the charges, which could see them imprisoned for 20 years if convicted.

The trial is set to last three days at the Mbabane High Court, where they stand accused of inciting protests.

Both men have been in jail since their arrest on 25 July during a wave of protests calling for democratic reforms.

King Mswati III's government responded to the protests with deadly violence.

Police say at least 37 people were killed, mostly in the first wave of demonstrations in June. Human Rights Watch however puts the death toll at 46.

The stiff charges against the two men are the latest warning from the monarchy to the pro-democracy movement.

The lawmakers have advocated for reforms to eSwatini's complex system of non-party elections.

Wonder Mkhonza, head of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland which has supported the protests, urged the international community to support the two lawmakers.

"We no longer have faith in the justice system," he told AFP. "We call upon the international community and organisations to sanction the country as soon as possible."

"King Mswati controls the courts and the outcomes," he added. "What do you expect?"

King Mswati III is Africa's last absolute monarch, who enjoys flaunting his wealth and showering his 15 wives with lavish gifts.

Yet he rules over one of the poorest countries in the world, where nearly two-thirds of 1.2 million inhabitants live in poverty.