More than 50 trade unions and civil society organisations from across the world have joined to nominate two jailed Swaziland journalists for a human-rights award.
Bheki Makhubu, editor of The Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer, are serving two-year jail sentences after writing and publishing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.
They have been nominated for the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Award which honours exceptional individuals who peacefully promote and protect universally recognised rights.
A statement announcing the nomination said. ‘Thulani is a human rights lawyer and a pro-democracy activist who repeatedly defended political activists and trade unions in and outside the courts. He represented Mario Masuku, president of the banned opposition party, the People’s United Democratic Movement, and Sipho Jele on their pro-democracy struggles, which the state had termed treasonable.
‘Recently, he challenged the constitutionality of the de-registration of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland at the High Court.
‘Bheki is the editor of The Nation magazine, a monthly periodical that is one of the few independent voices in the country calling for government accountability and democratic change.’ Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The statement continued, ‘Thulani and Bheki were arrested and detained on 17 March 2014 and 18 March 2014 respectively for writing articles about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of government vehicle inspector, Bhantshana Gwebu, and the lack of integrity, impartiality and independence of the Swaziland judiciary. After a trial with numerous flaws and irregularities demonstrating a bias against them, both of them were convicted of contempt of court on 17 July 2014. However, instead of the ordinary 30-day sentence, they were sentenced to two years imprisonment on 25 July 2014, underscoring the political (and jaundiced) nature of their trial and sentence.’
The winners of the 2014 Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Award will be selected by an independent jury and announced at the occasion of the ordinary session of the Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Niamey in October 2014.
Among those organisations making the nomination are: Action for Southern Africa; African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation; Afrika Kontakt Denmark; American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations; Botswana Federation of Trade Unions; Canadian Labour Congress; Central Organisation of Trade Unions Kenya; Congress of South African Trade Unions; Danish Confederation of Trade Unions; Federation Of Somali Trade Unions; International Trade Union Confederation; International Transport Workers’ Federation; Nigeria Labour Congress; Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions; Sierra Leone Labour Congress; Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations; Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders; Swaziland Lawyers for Human Rights; Trades Union Congress (GB); UNI Global Union Africa; Unifor Canada; Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.