Hundreds pay tribute to slain Eswatini rights activist

Thulani Maseko, human rights lawyer and activist, looks on as he gives an interview to Agence France-Presse in Lobamba, Eswatini on September 22, 2018. PHOTO / AFP

What you need to know:

  • Hours before his murder, King Mswati III warned activists who defy him not to "shed tears" about "mercenaries killing them".

Hundreds of people, including foreign diplomats, paid tribute Saturday to a human rights lawyer who was shot dead in Eswatini, sparking alarm over violence in Africa's last absolute monarchy.

Thulani Maseko, a fierce critic of authorities in the tiny landlocked nation, was gunned down through the window of his home last Saturday by unknown attackers.

Hours before his murder, King Mswati III warned activists who defy him not to "shed tears" about "mercenaries killing them".

Diplomatic envoys from the US, European Union, the United Kingdom and the United Nations attended a sombre memorial service on the outskirts of the commercial capital, Manzini.

The UN representative George Wachira said Maseko's killing was a "loss not only to Eswatini but to the world and humanity. We cannot avoid bitterness because Thulani didn't deserve to die in this manner". 

"His death shall not be in vain. Thulani was at the core of that theory that through dialogue this country can be fixed," he told mourners.

Maseko, who died aged 52, had spent most of his life fighting state repression and representing opposition activists in court.

In 2014, he was jailed for contempt of court over articles critical of the government and judiciary, but he was acquitted on appeal and released a year later.

At the time of his death, Maseko led a broad coalition of political and civic rights and religious groups created in November 2021 to foster dialogue with the king and seek a way out of the political crisis in the country of 1.2 million people.

Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, has long cracked down on dissent, with political parties banned since 1973. 

At least 37 people were killed during weeks of anti-monarchy protests in June 2021.

Maseko's killing drew widespread international outrage and calls for an impartial probe into the killing, and the prosecution of the culprits.