There was widespread confusion in Swaziland on Tuesday (8 April 2014) regarding the status of Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko.
Both men were released from jail by the Swazi High Court on Sunday after spending 20 days on remand awaiting trial on contempt of court charges, following the publication of articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.
But, reports were circulating in Swaziland that new arrest warrants had been issued against the two men, but that police officers were reluctant to execute them without the express command of the Swazi Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula.
At the centre of the case is Chief Justice Ramodibedi, who on 17 March issued warrants for the arrest of Makhubu and Maseko and then sent them to jail on remand. He did this in closed court without lawyers present.
High Court Judge Mumcy Dlamini in a judgement that took her less than a minute to read out, released the men. They had been in jail for 20 days.
In her written judgement, Dlamini said that CJ Ramodibedi had sent the men to jail without hearing arguments or submissions why they should not be.
She added that the law in Swaziland stated that it was a magistrate’s job to issue arrest warrants.
She said the affidavits used to support the warrant of arrest were ‘incompetent in law’ because they were raised by the Chief Justice’s clerk, who was representing the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice claimed to be injured by the contents of the articles the two accused men wrote.
Judge Dlamini said, ‘A person attesting an affidavit must be completely objective and have no interest of any kind in the contents or input of that affidavit.’
She went on to say that the hearing should not have been heard in the Chief Justice’s chambers.
‘A matter of such magnitude viz. incarceration of persons ought to have been deliberated fully in an open court.’
On Monday the office of the Attorney General appealed the High Court judgment. This should be heard by the Supreme Court in May.
Meanwhile, the Swazi Observer newspaper has reported that the Chief Justice is angry that Makhubu and Maseko were freed from jail after the High Court ruling. It reported that Judge Dlamini had not specifically stated the two men should be freed and no release warrant had been signed.
It reported that on Monday Ramodibedi summoned to his chambers Superintendent Joseph Mahlindza, the Officer-in Charge at Sidwashini Correctional Services, where the two had been jailed, together with two officers. They had to answer to him why the two prisoners had been released without a liberation warrant.
Under normal circumstances, the liberation warrant is signed by the Registrar of the High Court, the Observer reported.
DOES CHIEF JUSTICE KNOW THE LAW?