Bheki Makhubu, the Swaziland editor jailed for two years for publishing articles critical of judges has won the Press Freedom Award at the CNN / Multichoice journalism awards.
Makhubu, editor of the Nation, a small-circulation monthly comment magazine, was jailed with Thulani Maseko, a writer and human rights journalist in July 2014.
The judge’s citation for the award said, ‘Bheki Makhubu is in jail. Where a journalist should not be. One of far too many journalists on the continent.
‘Bheki and his columnist and human rights lawyer colleague, Thulani Maseko, remain in jail facing sedition charges.
‘Their crime: They annoyed Swaziland’s chief justice after penning columns supporting a state clerk who was charged for trying to put right the system that allowed judicial officers to misuse public cars.
‘Their jailing is part the continuum of Swaziland’s long tale abuse of civil rights and free expression. This editor of The Nation, Makhubu is a long-standing practitioner who is known for his fair hand and balanced reporting: even in circumstances where fairness and balance are tough acts.
‘The Nation has become a talisman and assembly point, one of the last, in the fight for democracy in Swaziland.’
Makhubu and Maseko have also been nominated by more than 50 trade unions and civil society organisations from across the world for the 2014 Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Award.
The conviction of the two journalists was condemned by pro-democracy voices across the world. Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in Cape Town, said, ‘[The] ruling is an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression.’
In a statement she said, ‘We call on authorities in Swaziland to release Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko immediately.’
CPJ reported, ‘CPJ research shows that most of Swaziland’s principal media outlets are controlled by the state or choose to self-censor. King Mswati III owns one of the two daily newspapers and employs the editor of the other as an adviser. Media freedom advocates regard The Nation, which is owned and published by Swaziland Independent Publishers, as the only independent voice in Swaziland.’
Freedom House, in Washington, called the conviction a ‘show trial’. Jenai Cox, program manager for Africa programs at Freedom House, said, ‘The judiciary has become an instrument of repression, as King Mswati attempts secure his grip on power.’
Cox added, ‘After a three-month show trial, Swaziland’s High Court conviction of two of the country’s most prominent human rights activists shows that Swaziland’s court system has lost its last shred of credibility.’
In a statement the organisation said, ‘Freedom House joins opposition groups, civil society organizations and international organizations in demanding authorities swiftly and unconditionally release Maseko, Makhubu and all of Swaziland’s political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.’
WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE
COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER