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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

SUPPORT FOR JAILED SWAZI JOURNALISTS

The first anniversary of the jailing of two journalists in Swaziland after they wrote and published articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary has been marked by condemnations from across the world.

Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer, were remanded in detention on 18 March 2014.  In July 2014 they were each jailed for two years without the option of a fine for committing contempt of court.

The Nation and Swaziland Independent Publishers were also fined E50,000 (US$5,000) each.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in a statement said, ‘National, regional and international civil society organisations have unequivocally condemned the conviction, denouncing it as an inexcusable infringement upon Makhubu and Maseko’s right to freedom of expression.’ 

MISA Swaziland has supported Makhubu and Maseko since their arrest, attending their court hearings and visiting them in prison. MISA Swaziland Director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo condemned the conviction, saying, ‘It spells doom for the future of journalism and practicing journalists in the country.’

He added, ‘It further stifles media development because it instils fear in journalists and citizens who want to express their views.’ 

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights said in a statement, ‘The case against Maseko and Makhubu has been universally decried as a sham from the outset.’

  
It said the court proceedings were ‘highly irregular’ and they ‘contravened international standards for a fair and impartial trial.’ 

King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. He chooses the government and the judges.

Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of Robert F. Kennedy Partners for Human Rights, said, ‘Today, there is no justice in Swaziland. The kingdom’s judicial system is dominated by one man, a monarch who can unilaterally deny human rights according to his own whims, including free speech and freedom of expression. These actions violate the rights enshrined in Swaziland’s constitution, as well as a wide array of international legal standards.’ 

Twenty-four members of IFEX (formerly the International Freedom of Expression Exchange) from all over the world issued a statement to ‘strongly condemn’ the continued imprisonment of the two journalists.  IFEX said, ‘The ruling was unreasonably severe and in clear conflict with Swazi citizens' constitutional right to freedom of expression. We consider these men to be prisoners of conscience.’ 

It added, ‘In addition to having their right to freedom of expression violated, Makhubu and Maseko were also denied their constitutional right to a fair trial. The judge presiding over their case, Judge Simelane, was mentioned in the articles that were the subject of the trial. He was called upon to recuse himself from the trial, but did not. Consequently, after a closed court hearing, Makhubu and Maseko were convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to two years in prison.’ 

Caroline James, writing on the Southern Africa Litigation Centrehe 365 days since Maseko and Makhubu’s arrest have been characterised by increased harassment with a number of other activists facing criminal charges arising out of speeches or publications. These criminal charges have all contributed to a growing culture of fear in Swaziland where journalists and activists hesitate before making unfavourable comments out of fear that they will face arrest.’

Clea Kahn-Sriber, head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk, wrote, ‘The Swazi courts are violating both the country’s constitution, article 24 of which guarantees freedom of expression, and its international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified in 2004 by Swaziland.’
 
Zoe Titus, writing in Equal Times, said, ‘This case is not an isolated incident. Rather, it is reflective of the repressive environment in which the media and civil society operate in Swaziland. 

‘There are 32 laws in Swaziland that place restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information.

‘The government controls most of the national media, and last year Minister for Information, Communication and Technology Dumisani Ndlangamandla declared that national television and radio stations are primarily there to serve the interests of the state, not the people.’

See also

TRIALS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED: AMNESTY

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