Police in the southern African nation of Eswatini “used whips, batons and teargas” to disperse crowds gathered in violation of new coronavirus lockdown mandates on December 18, Swazi Media reported on Tuesday.
“Police in the capital city Mbabane and the industrial town of Matsapha were reportedly patrolling streets on the lookout for people breaking the rules introduced on Friday [December 18],” according to the local news site. “They found people drinking alcohol on the streets and gathered at entertainment venues, including bars.”
According to the eSwatini Observer, police attempted to break up a crowd found gathered on the streets of Matsapha, but the individuals defied the initial order to disperse and later regrouped.
“Around midnight, the police came back to find the imbibers back at the same spot. Police started assaulting everyone they found drinking on the streets, accusing them of failing to heed to instructions. The drinking spree ended abruptly as everyone ran for safety with the police hot on their heels,” the newspaper reported.
The government of Eswatini, also known as Swaziland, announced on December 18 that it would start to enforce new coronavirus restrictions nationwide.
According to the new mandates, social gatherings are banned after 8:00 p.m. and people are prohibited from consuming alcohol at social gatherings, including family gatherings of more than 20 people.
“Night vigils and cross-over events or parties are prohibited,” Swazi Media reported. Non-essential travel between the hours of 11:00 pm and 4:00 am is prohibited. Restaurants and food outlets are banned from selling or serving alcohol to diners after 7:00 pm. “Festive season sports tournaments” are also prohibited.
The strict new mandates are expected to last until January 6, 2021.
Police officers in Eswatini have previously been accused of using excessive force to impose coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Near Eswatini’s main commercial city of Manzini in August, local police reportedly “fired a shot and severely kicked and punched residents” at a rural home outside of the city.
“A shot was fired at a woman but missed. Witnesses said police broke up a group who were drinking alcohol outside a homestead,” Swazi Media reported at the time.
Eswatini’s prime minister infamously endorsed police officers’ use of violence to punish violators of the nation’s coronavirus lockdown mandates in April.
“If you are found to be violating these regulations, the law will definitely take its course, we won’t compromise on this,” then Swazi Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini said at a press briefing.
“Maybe those who were assaulted were found to be on the wrong side of the law by breaking the regulations put in place by government. We would like to encourage members of the public to abide by these regulations, there shouldn’t a need for the law enforcement to force you to respect these regulations [sic],” he said.
Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini died on December 14, four weeks after testing positive for the Chinese coronavirus.