MISA-Swaziland | Alert
March 26 2014
A journalist and a human rights lawyer are currently detained in prison in Swaziland, a small country in sub-Saharan Africa.
Editor of The Nation magazine Bheki Makhubu and lawyer Thulani Maseko are facing contempt of court charges for writing articles questioning Swaziland’s justice system. Specifically, the two made comments on the case of government vehicle inspector Bhantshana Gwebu, who is already facing a contempt of court charge — also issued by the chief justice, Michael Ramodibedi.
Ramodibedi is currently facing impeachment proceedings in his home country Lesotho where he is that nation’s Court of Appeal president. (This story is not getting much airplay in the Swazi media.)
Local and international groups have noted the unconstitutional legal procedures that are keeping Makhubu and Maseko in jail and have called for their immediate release.
They were initially sent to jail on March 18 after a closed court hearing in the chief justice’s chambers. They were not given a chance to defend themselves and were not given the opportunity to apply for bail in that private judicial hearing, according to lawyers representing the duo. Makhubu and Maseko were yesterday remanded back into detention by newly appointed high court judge (and former court registrar) Mpendulo Simelane until another court hearing on April 1.
The chief justice is one of the subjects of the articles that has landed Makhubu and Maseko in trouble. Many commentators have suggested the detention of Makhubu and Maseko is personal payback for questioning the independence and professionalism of the judiciary.
Many have also quietly implied that the current actions of the judiciary are doing more damage to the nation than any article could ever do.
The lawyer for Maseko suggested the jailing of the two might be an attempt to bring back arbitrary detention to the country. He said it seems the two are already serving their sentence however no trial date has yet been set. They have now been held behind bars for eight days. It has also been suggested that Swaziland’s High Court has now been transformed into a remand court; a suggestion that has sent chills down the spine of many people in the country.
The story is getting considerable coverage by the two daily newspapers, however journalists, editors and publishers are naturally concerned that any minor slip of the keyboard might also land them in jail for contempt.
It would seem, however, that the story isn’t get much coverage in the broadcast — radio and TV — media. It must be said that the broadcast media in Swaziland is more censored than the print media and operates under a greater internalised fear of the authorities. The government has in place Public Service Announcement Guidelines for the state-controlled TV and radio, which among many other measures that restrict free speech, requires people to get approval from their local chief before issuing a statement.
Despite the challenges, MISA-Swaziland encourages the radio and TV media to exercise their constitutional right to media freedom. Section 24 of the national Constitution, the highest law in the land, guarantees and protects free speech and media freedom.
In this spirt, MISA-Swaziland further calls on the radio and TV media to accurately report on the current story involving journalist Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko. This is arguably the biggest media story in Swaziland for many years, and the public — who pay for the radio and TV media though their taxes — have a right to know what it happening.