Mbabane - Swaziland’s main opposition leader is reportedly seriously ill in prison, where he has been awaiting trial for four months after giving a speech critical of King Mswati.

Mario Masuku, president of the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo), suffers from diabetes and his organisation claims he has been mistreated while in custody on charges of treason.

“President Mario Masuku has fallen critically ill at His Majesty’s Correctional Services at the Zakhele Remand Centre. He is suffering from pneumonia due to a combination of various horrible conditions he has been exposed to.

“He has grown physically weak, pale, lost weight and has lost part of his eyesight,” Pudemo said.

The largest of the pro-democracy groups, Pudemo is banned as a terrorist organisation.

Masuku gave a speech at a May Day labour rally, calling for democratic reform of the monarchical government, despite a strong police presence at the event. He was immediately arrested.

“Zakhele remand centre has refused to put president Masuku in a cell well secured (against) cold and bad weather conditions since his arrest on May 1. He has been further denied warm clothes and access to his private medical practitioner,” Pudemo said.

While the government would not comment on reports of Masuku’s health, a Correctional Services official denied that the opposition leader was in ill health, because he said Masuku had not filed a formal complaint with prison authorities.

“Pudemo holds Mswati III responsible for the abuse perpetrated on Mario Masuku and also holds him answerable in the eventuality that the condition of the president worsens to the point of death,” Pudemo said.

Swaziland’s government insists the country has no political prisoners.

Masuku has been arrested and incarcerated three times before, each time for several months before going on trial because the courts would not go against the government’s wishes and grant bail.

The last time he had been incarcerated for almost a year on sedition charges, his case was dismissed on the first day of the trial. - Independent Foreign Service

The Star