The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to worship, alone or in community with others, and to change religion or belief. These rights may be limited by laws that are “reasonably required” in the interest of defense, or public safety, order, morality, or health, or protecting the rights of others.
The constitution affords unwritten traditional laws and customs, which are interpreted by traditional courts, equal status with codified laws, and prohibits the parliament and national courts from changing or regulating them.
The law requires religious groups to register with the government. In order to register, Christian groups must apply through one of the country’s three umbrella religious bodies (the League of Churches, Swaziland Conference of Churches, or Council of Swaziland Churches) for a recommendation, which is routinely granted, according to church leaders. The application process requires the group to provide its constitution, membership, and the physical location of the organization, along with the umbrella body’s recommendation, to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, which registers the organization. For indigenous religious groups and non-Christian religious organizations, authorities consider proof of a religious leader, a congregation, and a place of worship as sufficient grounds to grant registration. Registered religious groups are exempt from taxation, but contributions to these groups are not tax deductible.
Religious groups are required to obtain government permission for the construction of new religious buildings in urban areas, and must obtain the appropriate chief’s and the chief’s advisory council’s permission for new buildings in rural areas. In some rural communities, designated special committees allocate land to religious groups.
Religious instruction is mandatory in primary school and is incorporated into the daily morning assembly. Religion is an elective subject in secondary school. Although schools teach religion predominantly from a Christian perspective, the Ministry of Education includes a component on other religious groups in the curriculum. The constitution provides religious groups the right to establish and operate private schools and to provide religious instruction for their students without interference from government.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Muslim communities and the media reported plainclothes police officers attended and monitored Friday prayer sessions in mosques.
During a people’s parliament held at a royal residence, male Rastafarians who wanted to participate in the discussions and make submissions on issues of national interest were required to uncover their heads in order to enter the residence, which they stated was against their religious beliefs.
In August the Times of Swaziland reported that a presiding judicial officer ordered a defendant to remove a pin from his jacket symbolizing his affiliation with the Zion Christian Church. After the defendant removed the pin, the officer allowed him to take the witness stand and proceeded with the trial.
Religious leaders said the government protected the right of Muslim workers to close businesses in order to attend Friday afternoon prayer sessions at mosques despite the government mandated business operating hours. Businesses owned by members of the Bahai community were allowed to close shops in observance of Bahai religious holidays. Public schools, however, did not allow Muslim pupils early departure to attend Friday prayers.
According to local religious leaders, unwritten traditional laws and customs allowed approximately 360 chiefs and their councilors to restrict some rights of minority religious groups within their jurisdictions if the chiefs determined the groups’ practices conflicted with tradition and culture. Some chiefs continued to state they would not allow the operation of businesses in their jurisdictions by individuals who appeared to be associated with Islam.
According to religious leaders and civil society organizations, only Christian religious youth clubs were permitted to operate in public schools by the schools’ administration. Other non-Christian religious clubs were prohibited from meeting in the schools. The voluntary Christian clubs conducted daily prayer services in many public schools. The schools’ administration permitted the Christian clubs to raise funds and at times the clubs received funding from the school or from the general public.
Non-Christian groups reported the government provided some preferential benefits to Christians, such as free transportation to religious activities for Zionists and airtime on state television and radio for Christians, which the government did not make available to them. Government-owned television and radio stations broadcast daily morning and evening Christian programming. The government provided each of the three Christian umbrella religious bodies with free airtime to broadcast daily religious services on the state-run radio station. Non-Christian religious groups stated they did not receive airtime despite their repeated calls for inclusion in state-run television and radio programs.
The monarchy, and by extension the government, aligned itself with Christian faith-based groups and also supported many Christian activities. The king, the queen mother, and other members of the royal family commonly attended Zionist programs, including Good Friday and Easter weekend services, where the host church usually invited the king to preach. Official government programs generally opened with a Christian prayer and several government ministers held Christian prayer vigils, which civil servants were expected to attend, to address social issues such as crime and increases in traffic accidents.
In April the government indicated its intent to regulate the operation of religious groups following a 2014 parliamentary call for a national policy to control the rapidly growing number of religious groups in the country.