Bheki Makhubu, editor of the independent news magazine The Nation, and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, were convicted on Thursday (17 July 2014). Their lawyers say they intend to appeal.
Makhubu and Maseko were arrested in March 2014 after writing articles critical of a ruling by Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.
The Independent Online newspaper group in South Africa reported they now faced a possible ten years in jail. A date for sentencing has yet to be set.
The conviction has been 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.’
CPJ reported Makhubu had previously been convicted of contempt of court. In April 2013, the Swaziland high court sentenced him to a fine of US$20,000 or two years' imprisonment in connection with stories he published in 2009 and 2010 that criticized Ramodibedi. Makhubu appealed the sentence successfully in May 2014 when the Supreme Court handed down a fully suspended three-month sentence, provided that he is not convicted of any offense of scandalizing the court over the next three years.
COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER