Local media in Swaziland has reported that The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) kicked out journalists from a post elections seminar that was being held yesterday in the town of Ezulweni.
The CPA is an organisation of British origin that works to support good governance, democracy and human rights.
According to daily newspaper the Times of Swaziland, a “Zambian Member of Parliament, identified as Muntanga, who was acting on behalf of Secretary General William Shija, had a belief that journalists tended to focus on certain elements and blow them out of proportion”.
The article continues: “Before the start of the seminar, [Muntanga] asked journalists to identify themselves, and instructed them to step aside so that the seminar could continue.
“Muntanga recalled an instance in his home country where journalists focused on a flippant statement that MPs wanted a salary raise.”
Swazi MPs in attendance were reportedly divided on whether to allow the journalists to stay or go. “I was not sure on what to do,” said one MP according to the article.
Some of the topics to be discussed in the seminar include ‘Parliament and the Media’ and ‘Parliament and Human Rights’, said the report.
Journalists are often harassed in Swaziland and the media is often blamed for causing division. On July 25 this year a respected Swazi editor, Bheki Makhubu, was sentenced to two years in jail for writing an opinion piece questioning the actions of controversial chief justice Michael Ramodibedi.
Swaziland minister for information, communication and technology Dumisani Ndlangamandla said the national TV and radio stations are primarily there to serve the interests of the state, reported daily newspaper Times of Swaziland last week.
The national television station, Swazi TV, and the national radio station, SBIS, are both controlled by government. Official censorship as well as pervasive self-censorship by those working for the broadcasters allows the state to control the content to ensure criticism of the nation’s leaders is kept off air.
Several members of parliament, however, have been calling for free speech on the broadcasters and to transform them into platforms that serve the interests of the people, rather than the government.
“Members of Parliament (MPs), during the recent portfolio committee debates in Parliament for the various government ministries, expressed to the minister (for ICT) the need for the State mediums to be turned into public broadcasters,” reported the Times of Swaziland.
“Manzini North MP Jan Sithole, who raised this matter, said currently, the mediums — which are the biggest in the country — are only operated the way the State wanted. ‘They only cover news which the State wants covered and they are not open to the public as they should, yet they are run with taxpayers’ money,’ said Sithole.”
The article continued: “The MP [Sithole] also raised concern about the silent censorship of politicians by the State media, since no MP is ever interviewed or shown on TV.”
Swaziland’s lack of respect for free speech and differing opinions has been in the spotlight in recent months. On July 25 prominent editor of the Nation magazine Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maskeo were both sentenced to two yeas in jail (without the option of a fine) on criminal contempt of court charges. Both writers had criticised the nation’s controversial judiciary in opinion articles and pointed out several irregularities in how chief justice Michael Ramodibdei has been operating. Read more about Ramodiebi’s own legal battles by clicking here.
Ramodibedi, who is from Lesotho, recently resigned from a senior judicial position in that country in the face of an impending impeachment trial. Many local and international groups continue to call for Ramodibedi to step down from his judicial posting in Swaziland.
The Times of Swaziland has reported that the South African media should stop distorting stories about the kingdom.
“Chairman of the Swaziland National Editors Forum Mbongeni Mbingo has appealed to the South African media to desist from distorting news stories that were initially broken by journalists in Swaziland,” reported the Times of Swaziland.
The article, which was attributed to “Times reporter”, said that Mbingo was speaking at a Freedom House sponsored event in Johannesburg, where South African editors were learning about the declining respect for freedom of speech in Swaziland.
Mbingo’s comments come at a time when journalists in Swaziland face increasing censorship. The threat of jail hangs over journalists who dare to question or criticize the actions of the nation’s leaders. In July 2014 Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, human rights lawyer and columnist for the Nation, were sentenced to two years in jail on a contempt of court charge.
“The office of the chief justice takes this opportunity to warn the media from commenting adversely on cases pending in court,” said a statement issued by the CJ’s office, according to the Times of Swaziland.
The statement continues: “Thus, for example, one publication scandalously referred to the chief justice’s role as ‘unorthodox move’ and that he ‘flights with political issues’.”
The Times articles goes on to report: “He [the CJ] said it was plain mischievous to allege, as the Observer on Saturday did on August 16, 2014 that the prime minister’s authority was being challenged [by the CJ].”
The Swazi chief justice — who recently resigned from a top judicial position in his home country Lesotho before an impending impeachment hearing against him — has been at the centre of recent media wranglings in Swaziland.
Respected editor Bheki Makhhbu and lawyer Thulani Maseko were both sentenced to two years in jail after writing articles that were found to have disrespected the CJ.
Makhubu and Maseko were convicted of criminal contempt of court for writing “scurrilous” opinion articles that the high court said had brought the justice system into disrepute.
Local and international groups continue to condemn the conviction and sentence against the two writers, saying that the judgment does more harm to the country’s image.
Makhubu and Maseko have both filed an appeal which is expected to be heard in the coming months.
In the appeal papers, according to local media, lawyers for Makhubu say judge Mpendulo Simelane erred on several matters when convicting the editor of The Nation magazine.
The appeal, according to the Sunday Observer, also touches on the silencing of critical voices in the kingdom as well as the lack of an independent judiciary.
Many local and international observers condemned the sentence of Makhubu and his co-accused Thulani Maseko, saying that the trial highlighted the crumbling state of free speech while raising more questions over the independence of the justice system.
Makhubu and Maseko were found to have disrespected controversial Swazi chief justice Michael Ramodibedi in opinion pieces. The conviction also noted that their articles had brought the justice system into disrepute.
Lawyers for the two writers argued that they were expressing sincerely held opinions that are in the public interest.
A new piece of research by a Masters student at the University of Pretoria says Swazi “citizens cannot freely express themselves on issues involving the government and the monarchy because of fear of being harassed by the authorities”.
Kudzani Ndlovu, who is studying at the University’s centre for human rights, completed the study after months of research, including ‘on the ground’ interviews in Swaziland.
His report, titled ‘Freedom of expression under siege: an investigation into the state of freedom of expression in Swaziland’, concludes that the “clampdown on the media is a clear indication authorities are unwilling to tolerate dissent”.
Ndlovu makes reference to the arrests of Swazi editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, who are now serving a two-year jail term after being convicted of criminal contempt of court.
“The arrest of the two is not an isolated incident but rather a highlight of the repressive regime’s concerted efforts to supress freedom of expression,” he says.
“The government has maintained a tight grip on the media so as to control the information being disseminated while the few ‘independent’ media outlets has been constantly attacked leading to unprecedented levels of self-censorship.”
Meanwhile, it has been reported that a top US law firm will take the case of two jailed Swazi writers to the UN.
Editor of The Nation magazine Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were sentenced to two years in jail after writing opinion pieces criticizing Swaziland’s controversial chief justice Michael Ramodibedi.
“Ramodibedi, who has for some years concurrently held the position of chief justice of Swaziland and president of Lesotho’s highest court, was a few weeks away from facing an impeachment tribunal in Maseru (capital of Lesotho) on charges that included alleged insurance fraud and other charges of improper behaviour in Lesotho,” reported South African newspaper Mail & Guardian in April 2014.
“A number of the charges also related to actions in Swaziland, where his period as chief justice has been dogged by controversy,” continued the Mail & Guardian article.
Swaziland’s high court, which is led by CJ Ramodibedi — who also heads the kingdom’s judicial services commission which recommends judges to the king who then appoints them — found that the duo had disrespected the CJ and brought the judicial system into disrepute.
Makhubu’s and Maseko’s opinion articles were deemed “scurrilous” and they were convicted of criminal contempt of court. The case brought attention to the lack of freedom of thought and expression in the southern African country.
If you would like to assist The Nation magazine as it faces mounting legal costs, as well as being fined $US10,000 for publishing the two articles, click here.
A monthly magazine in Swaziland is appealing for support as it continues to battle its way through the courts in a case that has drawn attention to the lack of free speech in the landlocked nation in southern Africa.
The Nation magazine, published by Swaziland Independent Publishers Pty Ltd, was convicted of criminal contempt of court on July 17 2014 after publishing two “scurrilous” articles by respected writers who questioned the kingdom’s controversial judicial system. The magazine intends to appeal the decision in the Supreme Court sitting in November.
In a statement appealing for financial support as its legal bills continue to rise, the magazine wrote:
“For generous people who would like to contribute towards the legal assistance for The Nation contempt of court case, the publisher has set up the Friends of The Nation Fund. Deposits can now be made to First National Bank of Swaziland, Account Number: 62024928155. Branch Code: 280164. Swift Code: FIRNSZMX.”
Bheki Makhubu, editor of The Nation and respected journalist, criticised Swaziland chief justice Michael Ramodibedi in an opinion piece over the judge’s involvement in the arrest of a government official.
Makhubu was co-accused with Thulani Maseko, a prominent human rights lawyer and columnist for The Nation, who also criticised the actions of the chief justice in an impassioned opinion piece that called for Swaziland to uphold the rule of law.
Lawyers argued that Makhubu and Maseko were simply expressing sincerely held opinions and fair comments that are in the public interest. Lawyers for the Crown agued that the writers disrespected the chief justice and brought the judicial system into disrepute. Newly-appointed high court judge Mpendulo Simelane agreed with the Crown lawyer and sentenced the duo to two years in jail without the option of a fine.
The Nation magazine was fined E100,000 (US$10,000).
The Nation is one of Swaziland’s few sources of independent news and opinion. By sticking to its mandate of ‘speaking truth to power’ it is no stranger to the courts. For many years the small but reliable publication has been outspoken in supporting Swaziland’s shift to a more open and tolerant country that respects its own constitution.
According to research publications by global human rights defender Freedom House Swaziland is rated ‘Not Free’ in Freedom in the World 2014 and Freedom of the Press 2014.
28 JULY 2014, WINDHOEK NAMIBIA – The Regional Governing Council of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) is outraged and deeply saddened by the unreasonable sentencing of editor of The Nation Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko to two years in prison, without the option of a fine, which was handed down by Judge Mpendulo Simelane in the Mbabane High Court in Swaziland last Friday, 25 July.The harsh sentence follows Makhubu’s and Maseko’s conviction on contempt of court charges on 17 July 2014, for separate news articles each wrote criticising the kingdom’s chief justice, Michael Ramodibedi, published in the independent news magazine, The Nation. The ruling appalled both human rights and free expression activists across the continent. Both The Nation and Independent Publishers were fined R50,000 respectively.
The two-year sentence handed down by the court, has been severely criticised for its severity, and was clearly intended to send a message to those who would engage in future criticism of Swaziland’s judiciary.
MISA Swaziland National Director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo says the judgment “criminalises freedom of expression in Swaziland. This is aptly demonstrated by the scathing tone and language of the presiding judge, Judge Mpendulo Simelane.”
“In his judgment, he makes it loud and clear that the objective of the sentence is to silence like-minded journalists thinking of questioning the conduct of judicial officers. According to this judgment, judges are God’s gift to the Swazi nation who cannot do anything wrong in their administration of justice,” Hlatshwayo said.
The Chairperson of the MISA Regional Governing Council (RGC), Anthony Kasunda, says: “This sentence is a travesty. It is unjust and undeserved and more than that, MISA is gravely concerned that this judgment will undoubtedly instill self-censorship among Swazi journalists who are already operating in an environment where both government and the judiciary do not appear to appreciate that they are acting in service of the Swazi people, and that accountability and openness on their part are a basic requirement to which Swazi citizens are entitled.”
In their articles, the pair had criticised the arrest and detention of government vehicle inspector Bhantshana Gwebu in January this year after he charged the driver of a Supreme Court judge with following an unauthorised route. Judge Simelane argued that writing these articles amounted to interfering with the administration of justice, because the criminal matter was still before court.
MISA maintains Makhubu and Maseko, in their articles, were legitimately practicing their right to free expression and were within these rights to comment on the conduct of the judiciary. Their comments did not warrant the contempt of court charges brought against them.
After being arrested in March this year, Makhubu’s and Maseko’s trial has been marked by procedural irregularities and violations of the pair’s rights, which started with their detention after a closed court hearing on 10 March. They have been unlawfully detained since their arrest and, furthermore, the judge presiding over the case, Judge Simelane, should have been recused due to his personal involvement in the Gwebu case mentioned in the articles.
Maseko and Makhubu’s legal representatives plan to appeal the conviction and sentence, and MISA urges Swazi judicial and political authorities to ensure the appeal is heard and to overturn this unreasonable sentence.
The Regional Governing Council of the Media Institute of Southern Africa condemns, in the strongest terms, this sentence and the increasing repression of the media and free expression in Swaziland. This conviction and sentence is a giant step backwards for the fight for free expression in Swaziland and the southern Africa region.
MISA further urges the Judiciary to respect the rule of law and the human rights of Swazi citizens, to maintain its independence and to refrain from engaging in the misuse of its judicial structures to settle personal scores.
Anthony Kasunda Chairperson Regional Governing Council Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Chairperson MISA Botswana
Chairperson MISA Namibia
Alexandre Neto Solombe
Chairperson MISA Angola
Chairperson MISA Lesotho
Chairperson MISA Swaziland
Chairperson MISA South Africa
NGC Member MISA Tanzania
Chairperson MISA Zimbabwe
NGC Member MISA Tanzania
Chairperson MISA Malawi
Chairperson MISA Zambia
MISA is a non-governmental organisation with members in 11 of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries. Officially launched in September 1992, MISA focuses primarily on the need to promote free, independent and pluralistic media, as envisaged in the 1991 Windhoek Declaration. MISA seeks ways in which to promote the free flow of information and co-operation between media workers, as a principal means of nurturing democracy and human rights in Africa.
MISA-Swaziland’s e-Forum posts stories and statements from civil society groups and NGOs in promotion of media freedom, diversity, pluralism, and access to information. The e-Forum also encourages individuals and groups to reply and respond to stories or statements that appear on the Forum.
Press Statement: Swaziland Breast and Cervical Cancer Network (SBCCN) Being diagnosed with breast cancer is traumatic at any age but for one young Swazi woman diagnosed recently with an advanced and aggressive form of the disease at the age of 21 years has been a frightening reality.
Fikile* still has a chance to fight this awful disease and even win but without vital chemotherapy treatment she faces an uncertain future.
SBCCN is working to assist this beautiful, positive young woman as she faces the fight of her life but we need your help to raise the R70-80,000 needed for her full treatment.
It is a daunting amount but we believe that little drops of water create a mighty ocean so if you can help in any way, big or small please message or call us on +268 24049273 or you can make a donation to Nedbank Call Account Number: 020000345718 with the reference ‘Fikile Treatment’.
*name changed to protect patient’s privacy
Swaziland Breast and Cervical Cancer Network in collaboration with Swaziland Young Women’s Network, would like to invite you for a Tea Party, an event organized in support of our mission to raise funds to aid Fikile’s treatment. Click here for a PDF version with event details