Swaziland High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane sentenced an editor and a writer to two years in jail to deter other journalists from criticizing the state.
He made this clear in remarks from the court on Friday (25 July 2014) when he sentenced Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer, to two years in prison without an option of a fine.
The pair had written articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the Swaziland judiciary.
Swaziland is not a democracy and is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Judge Simelane said, ‘I find that the interests of society far outweigh the personal circumstances of the Accused.’
He added that publishing articles in the Nation critical of the judiciary was ‘a defiance campaign against the Courts and the administration of justice. The Courts have an obligation to discourage such conduct in the interest of the stability of our country.’
In a clear warning to all journalists and other critics in Swaziland, Judge Simelane said, ‘No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did. Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively. The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons.’
He added, ‘Swaziland is a sovereign state. Her laws and constitutional structures must be respected. It is the fundamental responsibility of the Courts in this country to ensure that this is achieved through appropriately stiff sentences as a deterrent.’
The prison sentence has been criticized across the world. The US State Department said the harsh sentence appeared to be in conflict with Swaziland’s human rights obligations.
Amnesty International called it ‘a deplorable attack on freedom of expression in the country’.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Makhubu’s ‘only crime was to express a point of view and to publish criticism of alleged abuse of resources by certain members of the Swazi judiciary’.
The South Africa National Editors Forum (Sanef) said, ‘This is a massive blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland and will have a chilling impact on the work of journalists in that country.’
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