JOHANNESBURG – The kingdom of Swaziland says its prime minister is receiving an award for "contributions to humankind" on Saturday, but the group apparently bestowing the honor appears to be little more than a Florida phone number and website.
The decision to recognize Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini with a "World Citizen Award" has prompted outrage from human rights groups who have criticized the poor records on human rights and resistance to democratic reform in sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy.
The prime minister, who has recently gained attention for comments in the Swazi media that anti-government protesters should be tortured, already has flown to the Bahamas to pick up the award, his office said.
Chief government spokeswoman Macanjana Motsa, who went along on the trip, did not respond to phone calls from The Associated Press or an e-mail asking whether the kingdom had taken any steps to determine the award's legitimacy or had been asked to pay any costs associated with the award.
"This award heralds his accomplishments and contributions to humankind," the spokeswoman said in a statement that was released when Swaziland's Cabinet authorized the trip.
While Swaziland has a prime minister, King Mswati III wields most of the power in the impoverished, AIDS-ravaged kingdom of 1 million surrounded on three sides by South Africa and on the fourth by Mozambique. Pro-democracy activists say a monarchy is ill-equipped to combat the country's crises.
Amnesty International said earlier this month that "political activists, human rights defenders and trade unionists have been harassed, threatened, ill-treated and detained by the Swaziland police over the past year under draconian anti-terrorism legislation."
The World Citizen Award website also included a listed of trustees that a respected peace group said was used without its permission.
Richard C. Allen, a lawyer for the World Peace Foundation, said in an e-mail to the AP that the trustees list on the World Citizen Award site was "lifted without authorization from the web site of my client, the World Peace Foundation, a well-respected NGO in the U.S. Neither the World Peace Foundation nor its Board members are connected with the 'World Citizen Award.'"
The site also claims the World Citizen Award medal was designed in 2007 by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, assisted by the Swedish engraver Erik Lindberg. Vigeland, who designed the Nobel Peace medal, died in 1943. Lindberg, who designed the Nobel physics, chemistry, medicine and literature medals, died in 1966.
The Internet domain name for the World Citizen Award website is registered to a man named Rudolph Laroda. A man identifying himself as Laroda's spokesman declined to answer questions and a few hours later the list of trustees had disappeared from the website.
News reports in the Caribbean say questions have been raised for some time about the activities of a man using the names Rudolph King, Rudy King-Laroda and Kermit Rudolph Casito Laroda.
A report of a 2006 press conference he apparently held at a Bermuda hotel quoted him as announcing that retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Hollywood stars Halle Berry and Will Smith would be among luminaries coming to Bermuda for a "Global Vision Awards of Excellence" event.
Tourism officials and spokesmen for the celebrities involved denied any involvement, and the event was never held.
Associated Press writers Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Phathizwe-Chief Zulu in Mbabane, Swaziland contributed to this report.