A murder suspect in Swaziland, who has been in jail for the past nine years without being tried, has filed an urgent application at the High Court to be released.
He had been granted bail in 2009 but could not afford to pay it.
Fana Shongwe from Ndlalambi in the Hhohho region was arrested in September 2009 and charged with murder and arson. He is currently kept at the Sidvwashini Correctional facility.
His case has similarities to that of Sikhumbuzo Mdluli, of Ngwazini in the Manzini region who was arrested and charged with murder in March 2008 and is also reportedly at Sidvwashini awaiting trial.
The Swazi Observer reported on Wednesday (25 April 2018) that Shongwe wanted the High Court to order his release. It reported that in 2009 he was granted bail by the High Court fixed at E50,000 (US$4,070) and was ordered to pay E15,000 cash with the rest being in form of a surety.
It quoted him saying, ‘I was not able to pay the bail as I could not afford and as such I have been in custody from the date of arrest to the date of the present application.’
His lawyer submitted that Shongwe’s incarceration without trial violated the Swaziland Constitution.
Shongwe’s case is similar to that of Sikhumbuzo Mdluli, of Ngwazini in the Manzini region. It was reported in January 2018 that he had been arrested and charged with murder in March 2008 but had not been sent for trial. He has asked the High Court of Swaziland to intervene.
The pair are not the only people jailed for lengthy periods in Swaziland awaiting trial. In December 2017 Swaziland’s Human Rights Commission reported at least 133 people had been detained in Swaziland jails without trial for more than a year, Executive Secretary of the Human Rights Commission Linda Nxumalo told the Sunday Observer at the time, ‘One of the key cases that the Commission has worked on [in 2017] was one dealing with the issue of access to justice especially for 133 inmates that have been detained for longer than 12 months without trial or sentencing at our already overcrowded correctional facilities.’
A report just published by the US State Department into human rights issues in Swaziland for 2017 stated, ‘Lengthy pretrial detention was common. Judicial inefficiency and staff shortages contributed to the problem, as did the police practice of prolonging detention to collect evidence and prevent detainees from influencing witnesses if released. There were instances in which the length of detention equalled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime.’
133 JAILED WITHOUT TRIAL FOR A YEAR