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Sunday, 1 March 2015

TRIALS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED: AMNESTY



Amnesty International has highlighted the case of two journalists jailed in Swaziland for writing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary to demonstrate an ‘upsurge in politically motivated trials and the use of laws which violate the principle of legality to suppress dissent’ over the past year.

Amnesty, in its annual report just published, said that in July 2014 Bheki Makhubu, editor of the monthly news magazine the Nation, and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were sentenced by the High Court to two years in prison for contempt of court ‘after a grossly unfair trial’.

Amnesty, which has already declared the two men to be ‘prisoners of conscience’, said, ‘In March [2014] the two men were arrested after the Nation published their articles raising concerns about judicial independence and political accountability in Swaziland. The warrant used to arrest them, issued by Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, subverted the normal legal process. 

‘The police at Mbabane police station, where the men were initially detained prior to their appearance before the Chief Justice, also appeared to have been acting under instructions when they denied the men’s lawyers access to them in the police cells. 

‘The two men were remanded into custody by the Chief Justice following a brief procedure behind closed doors in his office. In April, they were briefly released, following a ruling by High Court judge Mumcy Dlamini that the warrants used to arrest them were defective. The Chief Justice immediately lodged an appeal against this ruling, the two men were rearrested and the trial against them began under High Court judge Mpendulo Simelane. 

‘The judge had a clear conflict of interest in the matter as he was named in one of the cited articles and intervened as a factual witness during the course of the trial. When sentencing the defendants, Judge Simelane criticized their “disgusting conduct”, for running a “defiance campaign” against the administration of justice with “scurrilous” articles and, in respect of Thulani Maseko, for “pursuing regime change”’

The sentences are to be appealed.

Amnesty added, ‘In May [2014], the Supreme Court overturned Bheki Makhubu’s previous conviction in 2013 for one of two charges against him arising from an earlier article in the Nation on the importance of the judiciary in entrenching respect for the Constitution and improving the lives of the people. 

‘The Supreme Court upheld the conviction on the second charge arising from an article concerning the conduct of the country’s powerful Chief Justice, but overturned the sentence of two years’ imprisonment if the editor failed to pay a fine equivalent to nearly US$45,000 within three days. The Supreme Court judges substituted a fine equivalent of US$3,000 and a suspended sentence of three months’ imprisonment conditional on not being convicted of a similar offence.’

See also

SWAZI HUMAN RIGHTS WORSEN: AMNESTY

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