Support pours in for editor threatened with jail

MISA-Swaziland Alert-update
22 April 2013

Support continues to pour in for Bheki Makhubu, an editor in Swaziland who was recently threatened with a two-year jail term for “scandalising the court”. Makhubu was ordered to pay Emlangeni E200,000 (approximately US$21,500) or face two years in prison by Justice Bheki Maphalala last Wednesday, 17 April 2013.

Makhubu edits one of Swaziland’s few independent sources of news, The Nation magazine, published by Swaziland Independent Publishers. The magazine was found guilty of “contempt by scandalizing the court” following its publication of two articles in 2009 and 2010 that criticised Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

The summary of Justice Maphalala’s ruling mentions the “right to freedom of expression and opinion” and says “judges and courts are open to criticism provided that the criticism is fair and legitimate and does not exceed accepted boundaries”. In this case, however, the judge told The Nation it was “guilty of contempt by scandalizing the court”.

Over the weekend, Swazi media and other free expressions organisations came out in support of Makhubu and criticised the heavy penalties both the journalist and the magazine are facing.

The Monday (22 April) editorial of the Times of Swaziland described the sentence as “an attempt [by the Judiciary] to put a lid on complaints”. Mbongeni Mbingo, managing editor of the Swazi Observer, which is owned by an investment fund controlled by King Mswati III, wrote a ‘blank page’ opinion piece titled ‘Dear Judge Maphalala’.

The Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) has been quoted by local media as saying they had set up a fund to assist Makhubu and The Nation. Details of the fund are still not available but SNAJ president, Mfanukhona Nkambule, can be contacted on mobile: +268-7621 6503.

Meanwhile, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has said it “objects in the strongest terms to the conviction and sentencing” of Makhubu. In a statement, Sanef further urged the South African government and African Union to “more vigorously remind the Swazi authorities of the importance of a free press and open democratic environment.”

Makhubu is expected to appeal the conviction and sentence on Tuesday, 23 April 2013. It is not yet clear whether the appeal will be heard immediately or at a later stage, possibly after several months.

MISA will continue to send updates.

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, MISA-Swaziland National Director



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