Eswatini suspends Facebook access as protests intensify

Eswatini suspends Facebook access as protests intensify

The Southern African kingdom of Eswatini has ordered mobile operators to suspend access to Facebook and its messenger app, after pro-democracy protests against the king intensified.

This was confirmed by MTN Eswatini, the local unit of telecoms group MTN, which said it had implemented the directive from the country’s communications commission to suspend Facebook access with immediate effect and until further notice.

The commission did not give a reason for its order, MTN said.

However, the kingdom’s Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku told the state broadcaster that the Facebook suspension was aimed at protecting Swazis, and he confirmed Eswatini was expecting envoys from Southern African countries this week to address the crisis.

Anger against King Mswati III has been building for years. It broke out into the open during demonstrations in June and July which the local authorities quashed with tear gas and water cannon, and another round of protests erupted in recent weeks.

Campaigners say 53-year-old Mswati III has consistently ignored calls for reforms that would nudge Eswatini, which changed its name from Swaziland in 2018, in the direction of democracy.

The king denies accusations of autocratic rule and of using public money to fund a lavish lifestyle in the impoverished nation that borders South Africa. In July he called protests against his rule “satanic”.

Students protesting in Eswatini schools chanted “Mswati must fall” and “Release our MPs,” a reference to two lawmakers arrested during earlier protests. Bus drivers blocked some main roads in the city of Manzini.