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Swaziland Tried to Block Coverage of Crash That Killed 38 Women on Way to Dance for King

At least 20 other women were seriously injured in the African nation when a truck crashed on the way to a festival celebrating womanhood and chastity.
Photo via AP

Thirty-eight women were killed and 20 others seriously injured in Swaziland on Saturday in a truck crash that occurred as the passengers were on their way to dance for the country's king at a festival celebrating womanhood and chastity. The Swaziland Solidarity Network, a rights group that initially announced the news, said that local police discouraged journalists from reporting on the accident.

"You don't hide a death," said Lucky Lukhele, spokesman for the Network told the Associated Press. Members of the Swaziland Defense Force reportedly alerted the rights group to the incident.


The truck was traveling between on a highway between the Swazi cities of Mbabane and Manzin when it collided with a Toyota van and a third vehicle. The women and girls were riding in the bed of the truck.

A Swazi journalist told AP that photographers were prevented from taking pictures at the scene. A high-ranking police officer contacted by AP refused to comment on the incident as well.

Swaziland, a nation of 1.4 million people landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique, has an absolute monarchy that exerts strict control over the media, according to the press freedom watchdog Freedom House.

Related: Al Jazeera Journalists Sentenced to Prison in 'Dark Day' for Press Freedom in Egypt

"King Mswati III has the power to suspend the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press at his discretion, and these rights are severely restricted in practice, especially with respect to speech on political issues or the royal family," Freedom House wrote last year, rating the country 78 (with 100 being the worst) in terms of press freedom.

Last year, the country earned the scorn of human rights groups around the globe when the editor of a political magazine and a human rights lawyer who writes opinion pieces for the magazine were jailed for criticizing the judicial system.

The girls and young women were on their way to the royal residence for the annual reed dance, Umhlanga. Every year, unmarried and childless girls and women travel from around the country to participate the eight-day festival, which involves singing, dancing and collecting reeds to reinforce a windscreen encircling the royal village. Some 40,000 people were expected to attend this year.

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