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Sunday, 27 July 2014

COURT SILENCES SWAZI JOURNALISTS



A threat by a Swaziland High Court judge to jail journalists that criticise decisions made by the law courts has hit home.

Chair of the Swaziland Editors’ Forum Mbongeni Mbingo declined to comment on the statement by Judge Mpendulo Simelane for fear of committing a contempt of court.

Mbingo had been asked by local media to comment on the jailing for two years of Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer. The pair had written articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the Swaziland judiciary.

Passing sentence Judge Simelane said that publishing articles in the Nation critical of the judiciary was ‘a defiance campaign against the Courts and the administration of justice. The Courts have an obligation to discourage such conduct in the interest of the stability of our country.’

He added, ‘No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did.  Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively.  The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons.’

He added, ‘Swaziland is a sovereign state.  Her laws and constitutional structures must be respected.  It is the fundamental responsibility of the Courts in this country to ensure that this is achieved through appropriately stiff sentences as a deterrent.’

Mbingo, who is chief editor of the Swazi Observer newspaper group, which is in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was reported by a rival newspaper, the Swazi News, saying, ‘he couldn’t comment on the judgment because doing so would probably constitute contempt of court but insisted that he was at pains, following yesterday’s events’.

The Swazi News quoted Mbingo saying the two-year sentences were ‘alarming’.

Mbingo said, ‘Bheki Makhubu is a member of the Editors’ Forum, he is a senior editor and he is highly regarded in the profession. Therefore, today has been a very sad day for all of us in the profession.

‘The sentence is alarming to us in the industry. I have been following the case as a journalist, as editor and a colleague to Bheki, but I never saw this coming. I didn’t think the sentence could be this drastic.’

He added, ‘I think we will obviously have to look at it and study it as media personnel to understand where the judge is coming from and to understand where the infringement was in order to ensure that we don’t find ourselves in the same situation.  

‘More than anything it’s important for us to understand what we stand for as a profession; it’s important to understand our role in society. We need to perform our role in society as respectfully as we can and also as unafraid as possible.’
Meanwhile, the Lawyers for Human Rights in Swaziland (LHRS) expressed ‘shock and disbelief’ at the jailing of the two journalists.

Secretary of the LHRS Sipho Gumedze said, ‘The tone that was used by the court was very unfortunate. Somewhere within the judgment, the court said it wanted to send a clear message to all journalists in Swaziland. As an association, we have serious misgivings about that.

‘The use of that tone was unwarranted.

‘The court was supposed to confine itself to the matter at hand and not to be political and personal because the court’s fundamental duty is to serve justice.’

Chairman of the LHRSMaxwell Nkambule said Judge Simelane’s sentence had dashed hopes on the independence of the judiciary and the role of courts to uphold the Constitution.

‘True we saw it coming but to think the court would unashamedly disrespect the basics on the protection of rights. Such is disgusting to say the least. The court is essentially saying there is no freedom of expression and free press,’ he said.

Vincent Ncongwane, Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), said, ‘The arrest, conviction and sentence of Maseko and Makhubu is very unfortunate and has no space in the modern democratic society.

‘The federation was seriously shocked at the tone the court used when delivering the judgment, it was scaring to say the least.’

Outside of Swaziland, condemnation of the jail sentences was swift from international organisations including the US State Department, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists,  the South Africa National Editors Forum, and  Freedom House

See also

JOURNALISTS JAILED TO DETER OTHERS

US BACKS CONVICTED SWAZI JOURNALISTS

JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM

SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS

WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE

COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER

EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’

Saturday, 26 July 2014

JOURNALISTS JAILED ‘TO DETER OTHERS’



Swaziland High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane sentenced an editor and a writer to two years in jail to deter other journalists from criticizing the state.

He made this clear in remarks from the court on Friday (25 July 2014) when he sentenced Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer, to two years in prison without an option of a fine.

The pair had written articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the Swaziland judiciary.

Swaziland is not a democracy and is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Judge Simelane said, ‘I find that the interests of society far outweigh the personal circumstances of the Accused.’

He added that publishing articles in the Nation critical of the judiciary was ‘a defiance campaign against the Courts and the administration of justice. The Courts have an obligation to discourage such conduct in the interest of the stability of our country.’

In a clear warning to all journalists and other critics in Swaziland, Judge Simelane said, ‘No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did.  Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively.  The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons.’

He added, ‘Swaziland is a sovereign state.  Her laws and constitutional structures must be respected.  It is the fundamental responsibility of the Courts in this country to ensure that this is achieved through appropriately stiff sentences as a deterrent.’

The prison sentence has been criticized across the world. The US State Department said the harsh sentence appeared to be in conflict with Swaziland’s human rights obligations.

Amnesty International called it ‘a deplorable attack on freedom of expression in the country’.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Makhubu’s ‘only crime was to express a point of view and to publish criticism of alleged abuse of resources by certain members of the Swazi judiciary’.

The South Africa National Editors Forum (Sanef) said, ‘This is a massive blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland and will have a chilling impact on the work of journalists in that country.’

See also

US BACKS CONVICTED SWAZI JOURNALISTS

JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM

SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS

WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE

COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER

EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’

Friday, 25 July 2014

JOURNALISTS CRITICAL OF REGIME JAILED

Magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were sentenced to two years in jail on Friday (25 January 2014) after they wrote articles for the Nation magazine critical of the Swazi judiciary.

They were not given an option of a fine.

The sentence was immediately condemned by Freedom House, the global human rights organisation as ‘shameful’ and a ‘brazen contempt for the free press’.

There had been protests across the world after the pair were convicted by the Swazi High Court of contempt of court a week earlier.

When they appeared for sentencing High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelenae said the sentence should serve as a deterrent for others.

Judge Simelane singled out Maseko because during the trial he had read out a statement in his defence that criticised the lack of democracy in Swaziland.

Judge Simelane said this amounted to a call for regime change in Swaziland. Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

See also

US BACKS CONVICTED SWAZI JOURNALISTS
JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM
SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS
WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE
COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER
EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’

FACEBOOK ‘BYPASSES CENSORED MEDIA’




Young people in Swaziland are turning to social media sites such as Facebook because it allows them to enjoy ‘the fundamental rights to freedom of expression’ that is denied to them elsewhere in the kingdom, a research report has found.

They also bypass mainstream media such as television, radio and newspapers in favour of social media, the report jointly published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) said.

In Swaziland media are heavy censored, with nearly all broadcast media under direct state control and one of only two daily newspaper groups is in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The report called Youth Usage of Social media in Swaziland concluded, ‘The young people have welcomed the emergence of the social media because, among others, it affords them an opportunity not only to inter-act but also enjoy the fundamental right to freedom of expression provided in Section 24 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland adopted in 2005.

Much to the delight of the young social media users, the social media has changed the face of the media landscape by making information sharing ‘easier, faster and quicker.

They can now easily and freely bypass the severely censored mainstream media to access, produce, distribute and exchange information and ideas.

More importantly, the social media has afforded the young people an opportunity to speak in their own voices, not mediated by the mainstream media.

It added, ‘They can use this empowering force as a source of information relevant to their social lives. It has become their reliable source of educational, social, political, economic and cultural information.

The research surveyed 100 people aged between 10 and 24 years old in all four regions of Swaziland. It found the most popular social media sites were Facebook, Whatsapp and Mxit.

The report also said many young people were concerned about ‘immorality’, including ‘the posting of pornographic materials, vulgar language, seditious information and character assassination.

See also

SOCIAL MEDIA FIRST WITH THE NEWS

SOCIAL MEDIA SITES PROMOTE FREEDOM