The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) has joined other international bodies in calling for the immediate release from jail of the Swazi human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko.
Last month (May 2015), the European Parliament made a similar declaration, joining human rights organisations across the globe.
In a statement issued on Wednesday (10 June 2015), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) welcomed the opinion by The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) which condemned as ‘arbitrary’ the detention of Maseko and also called on the Swaziland Government to release him immediately.
UNWGAD acted after a petition from the ICJ, the law firm Hogan Lovells US LLPS and the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights.
UNWGAD affirmed that the Swaziland government’s detention of Maseko was unlawful and that his rights to freedom of expression, liberty, and to a fair trial had been violated.
In addition to his immediate release, the UNWGAD said he should be paid ‘adequate compensation, enforceable by law’.
Maseko was jailed for two years for contempt of court along with Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation, a small circulation monthly comment magazine in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, after they wrote and published articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.
Arnold Tsunga, Director of ICJ’s Africa Regional Programme, said in a statement, ‘This opinion by the WGAD is important not only because it advances Thulani Maseko’s quest for justice, but also because of the message it sends to the Swazi Government and judiciary that they are responsible for guaranteeing basic rule of law and human rights principles.
‘We call on the Government to execute the opinion of the UNWAD and immediately release Thulani Maseko and afford him reparation for his arbitrary detention.’
In its opinion taken during its 72nd session between 20 and 29 April 2015, the UNWGAD determined that the detention of Maseko was arbitrary because it had been carried out in violation of his right to freedom of opinion and expression and as a result of numerous fair trial violations, including by judicial officials.
The UNWGAD concluded that Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane, the judges ordering (and re-ordering) Maseko’s detention who were also involved in the conduct of the trial had not conducted themselves impartially.
Their conduct resulted in Maseko’s denial of a fair trial before an independent and impartial court as required under international law and standards, UNWGAD said.
The UNWGAD also found violations of a number of other fair trial rights, including the denial of Maseko’s right to legal assistance.
On 21 May 2015 Members of the European Parliament meeting in plenary session called for the immediate release of Maseko and Makhubu. They said, ‘[T]heir imprisonment relates directly to the legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression.’
They also called for the release of all political prisoners, including Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and Maxwell Dlamini, Secretary-General of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO).
FREE POLITICAL PRISONERS: EURO MPs