“An explosive and hostile Judge Mpendulo Simelane sentenced The Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and columnist and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko to two years imprisonment without an option of a fine yesterday, sending shock waves to media practitioners locally and internationally,” reports today’s edition of weekly newspaper Observer on Saturday.
The Swazi News, a competing weekly newspaper, echoed the story of the judge’s conduct by carrying the headline: ‘Judge’s tone was shocking – Human Rights Lawyers’.
“The Lawyers for Human Rights in Swaziland (LHRS) has expressed shock and disbelief at the tone used by Judge Mpendulo Simelane when sentencing Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko yesterday,” reported the Swazi News.
The Swazi News went on to report: “Judge Mpendulo Simelane says The Nation Magazine Editor Bheki Makhubu and Human Rights Lawyer Thulani Maseko have not been remorseful throughout their trial.” The report continues: “He made these comments when sentencing them to two years imprisonment without an option of a fine for contempt of court.”
Both newspapers also reported on the heavy police presence at the court. Riot vans and police officers with rifles had surrounded the court as supporters came out after hearing of the sentence. The police were closely watching political activists who were singing and dancing in support of the convicted writers.
In reading the sentence judge Simelane said: “I am also cognizant of the fact that the Court is a paramount institution and should be respected. No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did. Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively. The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons. There should be accurate, factual, unbiased and responsible reporting by journalists and not mischevious inaccurate sensationalism which the Accused embarked upon.”
Last week when Simelane announced the conviction to a packed court room, he said: “The rule of law is meant to benefit everyone. Some journalists have this misconception that just because they have the power of the pen and paper they can say or write anything under the disguise of freedom of expression. This is a fallacy.”
“It’s a very harsh sentence,” said Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, national director of Swaziland’s Media Instiute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland).
Responding to questions in the Swazi News about the possibility of overturning the sentence on appeal, Hlatshwayo said: “We would not like to pre-empt the court ruling but we can only hope for the best.”
Amnesty International, a global human rights defender, described the sentence for Makhubu and Maseko as “deplorable”, saying the ruling was intended to “stifle free speech”.
Part of the statement reads: “During the trial, there was a clear conflict of interest as the presiding judge [Mpendulo Simelane] had been named in one of the articles. Also, prior to the judgment being handed down in court, the Minister of Justice reportedly had a meeting with the judge in his chambers.”
Amnesty International has called the journalist and lawyer prisoners of conscience.
The duo were detained in jail for over 120 days as their lengthy trial played out. On several court appearances, much to the outrage and disbelief of local and international observers, the two writers were chained in leg irons.
This article forms part of the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s report on the state of media freedom in the region in 2013 — So this is Democracy? To read this article in PDF click here and to read the regional overview click here
In Swaziland, 2013 saw the continued criminalisation of freedom of expression with the courts imposing a heavy fine on a print editor, and a mob and police physically attacking and harassing journalists who covered protests.
In April 2013, Swaziland Independent Publishers and The Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu was convicted of ‘scandalising the court’ and slapped with a hefty fine of E400 000 which was reduced to E200 000 (US$20,000). Judge Bheki Maphalala ordered Makhubu to pay the US$20,000 within three days of his conviction or spend two years in jail.
In the same year, a plain clothes officer pointed a gun at Times of Swaziland photojournalist Walter Dlamini, after he photographed election protesters at the Gege Inkhundla.
In yet another incident, a police officer attacked a Times of Swaziland reporter, Sisho Magagula and ordered him to delete pictures before leaving the scene. Magagula was covering a protest against KoNtshingila Acting Chief Gelane Zwane when the police officer ambushed him. MISA-Swaziland and the Swazi Editors’ Forum sprang into action engaging the national police commissioner Isaac Magagula on the matter. He finally set up a commission of inquiry whose findings have not yet been released to the public.
Two weeks into the New Year an angry mob took the law into its own hands when it attacked Swazi Observer freelance journalist Eugene Dube, in Machobeni area in the south of the country. Dube was punched, kicked and assaulted with sticks and other weapons. He sustained serious injuries on his forehead, right shoulder and elbows and his camera was damaged. Dube said he tried to explain he was a journalist, but the mob would not listen.
But it was not year of doom and gloom only in Swaziland as some positive incidences happened during the period under review. For instance, the national elections held in September had Swazis question, for the first time, the Tinkhundla-based system of governance under which the King choses a prime minister and 10 Members of Parliament (MPs) and voters elect 55 MPs from an approved list by the King.
King Mswati III himself spoke out in support of those exercising their right to freedom of expression when he ordered Royal Swaziland Police (RSP) to stop violating citizens’ rights to freedoms of expression, association and assembly. This was after police violently broke up several civil society and prayer meetings. The King commanded that police allow his subjects to speak, associate and assemble freely, but police seemed to disregard the royal command.
Media Landscape With a population of 1.2 million, the Swazi media sector is small but influential.
There are two major players in the newspaper industry, namely the Times of Swaziland Group of Newspapers and Observer Group of Newspapers. The Times of Swaziland is privately owned by the Loffler family while the Swazi Observer is owned by Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, an investment fund owned by the King “in trust for the Swazi nation”. The former publishes the Times of Swaziland, Swazi News and Times of Swaziland Sunday. The latter owns the Swazi Observer, Observer on Saturday and the new Sunday Observer, which began printing in 2013.
The Nation magazine is a private monthly publication that has a reputation for commenting, without fear or favour, on Swazi affairs. It is well known for speaking the truth to power.
There is another periodical called Agribusiness, which specialises in agribusiness stories. In addition there are other weekly and monthly publications with small print runs that are not widely available and sometimes publish sporadically. One of the private weeklies is the Sunday Independent newspapers which has a business bias.
A privately owned TV station, Channel Swazi, was established in 2001. It has not added much value in terms of media diversity or independence. Channel Swazi has only survived by outdoing the state-owned broadcasters in kowtowing to the authorities and influential people.
Owing to severe State and self-censorship, when criticism is offered by much of the media it is often offered in defence of the King. Many media practitioners seemingly and subtly criticise the King and government while at the same time defending his name and institution.
State of Print Media In addition to the three cases enumerated earlier, controversial Swazi Observer Managing Director, Alpheous Nxumalo, vowed not to allow pro-democracy voices to be published in the royal newspaper. He accused the independent media and civil society groups of undermining the stability and prestige of the monarchy.
He said “the so-called democracy activists find it democratic to insult the head of state and government in the media as a strategy of democratising Swaziland”. MISA-Swaziland and SEF challenged him to name and shame the culprits but Nxumalo failed to do so.
On World Press Freedom Day, on 03 May 2013, MISA-Swaziland led a protest march of print journalists, civil society groups and sympathisers. The protesters, who had masking tapes on their mouths, marched to deliver petitions to the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, and Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
The protesters brought to light media freedom violations in the country. This march bore fruit as King Mswati III and Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini addressed for the first time the freedom of expression issues in public. The PM went a step further ordering the petitioned ministers to respond but they did not.
Another of the positives during the period under review was the reinstatement of suspended Swazi Observer and Weekend Observer editors by the newly appointed Sithofeni Ginindza-led Observer Newspapers Group Board of Directors. Alec Lushaba and Thulani Thwala, controversially suspended under Nxumalo’s directorship, were reinstated eight months later.
Nxumalo accused the pair of continuously publishing stories tarnishing the King’s image by repeatedly ignoring warnings about the negative coverage but Ginindza found insufficient reason for their suspension and reinstated them.
MISA-Swaziland arranged a meeting for the editors and civil society representatives to iron out their differences and find common ground. Civil society representative Lomcebo Dlamini said media and civil society needed each other and they should work together, understand and appreciate each other’s roles. Martin Dlamini, who is deputy chairperson of the editors’ forum and Managing Director of the Times of Swaziland advised civil society to package their messages in the most palatable language to get it published.
The Media Complaints Commission (MCC) for print media became operational in April 2013. It is currently supported by the two national newspapers, Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer. The public can now contact the ombudsman who, along with a panel, decides whether corrective action should be taken or the complaint should be taken to mediation.
MISA-Swaziland is assisting the MCC with its overheads and has offered the MCC Ombudsman working space at its offices.
However, veteran journalist Jabu Matsebula, who is secretary general of the editors’ forum and publisher of the Agribusiness magazine, was appointed the MCC Ombudsman. This has raised concern as his close association with the editors’ forum and his current job as Agribusiness publisher does not inspire confidence in the MCC. There is an urgent need for the MCC Board to find an independent ombudsman.
State of Broadcast Media Government maintained its vice-like grip on the state-controlled broadcast media. Prime Minister Dlamini insisted that every media worldwide, has its own guidelines regulating how it should operate, and this should be followed by all.
Article 2.2.2 sub-Section (IV) of Public Service Announcement Guidelines for broadcasting says that any announcement ‘that is negative or does not support the Government’s agenda shall not be allowed.’ The government invoked the PSA guidelines not only to suppress dissenting voices but also to suppress the voices of Members of Parliament in the State broadcasters.
The legislators felt the guidelines were meant to frustrate them as they were accused of using radio to campaign. The ban imposed during election campaigns drove MP Masende Zwane to tears as he pleaded with the PM to lift it, claiming it frustrated progress and the free flow of information. MP Zwane was stopped from making public announcements on State radio. The head of government did not budge an inch.
The ban also affected ministers who were told to slow down on the usage of national radio in the lead up to the national elections. According to Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku this was done to avoid a situation where some people would have unfair advantage, because not everyone would have access to national radio. Ministers were only allowed to speak on official business. Even before then, they would have to seek permission from the deputy prime minister’s office. These measures effectively gagged election candidates in the broadcast media, which has a wider reach than print media.
ICT Minister Winnie Magagula, in what appeared to be a vote of no confidence in State media professionals, fired Chairman of the Swaziland Television Authority (STVA) Dr Maxwell Mthembu. According to him, this was through a letter which did not give a specific reason for his dismissal. STVA is responsible for regulating the country’s electronic media. Swazi TV, which falls under STVA, is heavily censored and is widely viewed as a government propaganda mouthpiece. The Minister is responsible for the appointment of the STVA chairperson but can remove the appointee at any time and is not required by law to provide a reason.
On the positive note, the ICT Minister tabled the Swaziland Broadcasting Bill 2013 and the Swaziland Broadcasting Corporation Bill 2013 in Senate in early March 2013. The Swaziland Broadcasting Bill has five objectives. Notably, the Bill provides ‘for freedom of expression through broadcasting.’ It also seeks to regulate ‘sound and television services and provide for the maximum availability of broadcasting to the people through the three-tier system of public, commercial and community broadcasting services.’ In addition, the Bill seeks to contribute to the ‘socio-economic development of society’ and nation building, while ‘strengthening the spiritual and moral fibre’ of the country.
The Swaziland Community Radio Network was launched in July. This marked the beginning of a strong civil society platform that aims to advocate, lobby and mobilise resources for community broadcasting. The six members include Lubombo Community Radio, Matsanjeni Community Radio, Ngwempisi Community Radio, University of Swaziland, Voice of the Church and the Seventh Adventist Church. The community radio network will campaign for the passage of the two broadcasting bills into law.
Another positive development was the granting of a commercial radio licence to a broadcasting company. The Nation magazine reported that Africa Unite FM (AUFM) was awarded the licence on 22 February 2013 despite there being no law to allow them to get it. Stan Motsa, Director of Communications in the ICT Ministry, responsible for radio licensing, issued the licence. AUFM is owned by two Swazi businesspersons, Victor Shongwe and Thandanani Dlamini. They own 35% each while the other 30% may be sold to the public. MISA-Swaziland welcomed the licensing because it would promote media diversity and pluralism.
ICTs and Telecommunications Swaziland’s Parliament passed two pieces of communication legislations, the Swaziland Communications Commission Bill of 2010 and the Electronics Communications Bill of 2009. This was viewed as victory for the country’s telecommunications industry as the two Bills will liberalise the sector. The Swaziland Communications Bill seeks to establish a Swaziland Communications Commission, provide for the appointment of a Board of Directors and regulatory functions of the Commission with regard to electronic communications, data protection, postal services, electronic commerce and broadcasting. The Bill would also provide for the transfer of regulatory powers and functions of the Swaziland Posts and Telecommunication Corporation to the Commission. The aim of the Electronics Communications Bill is to provide a framework for the development of electronic communication networks and services in Swaziland.
In July 2013, the ICT Ministry looked into drafting the cybercrime laws. The ministry hosted a conference titled “Transportation of SADC Cybersecurity Models Laws in National Laws for Swaziland, 2013”. According to ICT Principal Secretary Sikelela Dlamini, the cybercrime laws are needed in Swaziland to prevent computer hacking, stop internet predators and to clamp down on online pornography. The ministry went on to discuss internet security and regulation as well data protection legislation.
Development of Social Media Social media continues to grow in Swaziland. Facebook is becoming more popular, particularly for people in urban areas and for those who are able to afford the data costs on their mobile phones. But chatting on Facebook remains a luxury for many because 63% of Swazis live below the poverty line.
Among those on online, not many twit as Twitter is not as popular as Facebook, though it is being used more often now than in previous years. There is a clear generational divide, with the older generation more sceptical and critical of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, often viewing such social media as more of a threat than an opportunity. The younger generation, who have grown up with technology, instinctively see the benefits of social media, and are more liberal in the use of platforms. The mobile-based text platform WhatsApp also continues to grow daily.
Despite the challenges associated with social media, abusive and unsavoury material online, the continued growth of social media bodes well for freedom of expression. In many ways it is allowing people to practice their legal right to free speech and media freedom. This is particularly the case when the mainstream media, newspapers, radio and TV, are restricted in what they can disseminate. Younger people are taking control of the content they wish to consume and disseminate.
Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini admitted that Swaziland was not perfect but was trying while national police commissioner Isaac Magagula set up a commission of inquiry into the police harassment of journalists in line of duty. In addition, Magagula asked for a training course for the police on the role of the media in society.
All this goes to show that the sown seeds of freedom of expression are beginning to sprout. MISA Swaziland, going by the adage that “it is time to engage not carp”, is optimistic that the Swazi people will one day have access to information which is a natural bridge to freedom of expression and media freedom.
This article is an extract from the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s annual publication on the state of media in the region — So This Is Democracy?
Members of banned political organisations in Swaziland said prison guards didn’t let them take a copy of newsmagazine The Nation into one of the kingdom’s prisons, according to local news reports.
“The incident occurred at the Zakhele Remand Centre on Friday (July 18) morning when certain members of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) visited incarcerated President of PUDEMO Mario Masuku and SWAYOCO Secretary General Maxwell Dlamini,” reported daily newspaper Times of Swaziland.
“The dejected visitors refused to be named as they feared the facility would ban them from visiting the prison in future.
“They alleged that the Correctional officers told them boldly that The Nation Magazine was political and as such was not allowed into the facility. The visitors said they had brought the two men copies of newspapers from both publications in the country as well as the July 2014 copy of The Nation Magazine.”
The Nation magazine has been in the news a lot recently. Editor of the monthly magazine, Bheki Makhubu, and a columnist for the publication, Thulani Maseko, were last week convicted of contempt of court after they wrote opinion pieces criticising the actions of chief justice Michael Ramodibedi.
Makhubu and Maseko have been in jail for over 100 days. They were remanded into custody in March after a closed meeting in the chief justice’s chambers. They remain behind bars while newly-appointed high court judge Mpendulo Simelane — who was also mentioned in the articles in question — considers the sentence for the two men, who Amnesty International have called prisoners of conscience. To read MISA’s statement condemning the jailing and conviction, click here.
President of banned political party PUDEMO, Mario Masuku, and Secretary General of SWAYOCO Maxwell Dlamini have been kept in custody since their arrest after the May Day celebrations earlier in the year after allegedly uttering treasonous statements. They are awaiting trial at Zakhele Remand Centre.
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.
WINDHOEK NAMIBIA – The Regional Governing Council (RGC) of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) have labeled the conviction of prominent human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and The Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu on contempt of court charges a travesty of justice.
MISA-Swaziland Director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo condemned the conviction.
“It spells doom for the future of journalism and practicing journalists in the country,” he said. “It further stifles media development because it instills fear in journalists and citizens who want to express their views. Without the participation of all Swazis through the media, the king’s vision of taking Swaziland to the first world by 2022 will remain a mirage.
“MISA-Swaziland appeals to the Swazi authorities to uphold and respect section 24 of the Constitution, which protects free speech and media freedom. They must know that a free and independent media is the catalyst for the social economic development of any country. Because if people are not allowed to express their views on issues affecting their daily lives, there is no way the decision makers can make informed and relevant policies. MISA-Swaziland reaffirms its position that dissenting views are healthy and are not to be confused with disloyalty. MISA-Swaziland continues to stand by prisoners of conscience Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko.”
A SAD DAY FOR MEDIA FREEDOM IN SWAZILAND
Throughout the region, MISA members have denounced this as a sad day for media freedom in Swaziland, and have called on the global free expression movement to turn the spotlight on this travesty of justice in Swaziland.
“From the outset of the trial, it was clear that the court always intended to deliver a guilty verdict, in what we see as a farcical miscarriage of justice and frightening indictment of the lack of media freedom in Swaziland,” said Anthony Kasunda, Chairperson of the MISA RGC.
“Rather than convicted criminals, we consider our colleagues to be political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. We call on Swazi authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally.”
Kasunda confirmed that MISA would continue its support and solidarity of Maseko and Makhubu, and would make every effort to publicise this injustice as well as garner regional solidarity for their cause.
On 17 July the High Court in Mbabane, Swaziland found the two respected human rights activists guilty of contempt of court in relation to articles published in The Nation magazine published in February and March this year, which criticised the conduct of Swaziland’s Chief Justice, Michael Ramodibedi. Presiding judge Mpendulo Simelane was also mentioned in the offending articles. At the beginning of proceedings defence lawyers applied for Simelane to recuse himself, but to no avail.
Throughout the trial lawyers for the defendants argued that they were “exercising their right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution”. In his judgment, Judge Simelane attacked journalists, saying Swaziland’s Constitution does not grant absolute rights for freedom of expression, and therefore journalists must exercise caution.
“Journalists think that just because they have the power of the pen they can write anyhow under the guise of freedom of expression,” he said.
Makhubu and Maseko were arrested on 17 and 18 of March respectively, and have spent over 100 days in jail during the three-month trial, throughout which they were denied bail. They will remain in custody until sentencing, which Judge Simelane has suspended indefinitely.
Experts hold grave fears that Makhubu and Maseko could face a jail sentence of no less than three years.
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
Information for editors: 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.
Nomsa Dlamini (15) is ensconced in a black leather lounge suite, seemingly oblivious to the lively chitchat of her two playful siblings in the spacious living room.
Lost in her newfound fantasy world, her nimble thumbs seem to be the ones doing all the talking, deftly punching the tiny keyboard on her smartphone.
Dlamini’s eyes are glued to its screen as she intermittently stops punching to read postings on her social media accounts, Facebook and Whatsapp. But only the facial expression betrays her feelings as her face beams and twists at times.
Her mother barges into the posh living room to eject this lazy, taciturn teenager out. She is fuming about her daughter’s habit of shirking household chores. She angrily orders her to go to the kitchen to empty the overflowing garbage bin and wash all the dirty dishes in the sink. She also scolds her for having not yet made her bed and washed school uniforms.
Pouring out her heart, she bemoans that the teen is more into social media than her household chores and schoolwork. She complains that she spends a lot of her time on the social media right into the wee small hours.
“Since your dad bought you the smartphone, you’ve no time for the most important things in life,” she barks at her. “You’re always busy social networking to an extent of neglecting your own school work.”
Such is the lifestyle and behaviour of this technology-savvy generation that has been aptly dubbed the ‘technology natives’. To this ‘new community being built via social media’, information sharing and social networking have become second nature.
There has been a raging debate about the effects of social media on the youth, especially the school-going children. At one extreme, there is a group of people which claims that it promotes immoral behaviour. Yet there is another group of people, on the other extreme, which welcomes it as a source of information and ideas.
Hence, the advent of the social media in Swaziland can be aptly described as a mixed blessing.
According to a recent media study conducted by the Swaziland chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), commissioned by the locally-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) National Commission Office, social media has benefits and disadvantages.
This study concludes that the youth prefer the social media because, among other things, it affords them an opportunity not only to interact but also enjoy the basic right to freedom of expression guaranteed in Section 24 of the Constitution.
Much to the delight of the young social media users, the social media has changed the face of the media landscape by making information sharing “easier, faster and quicker.”
For instance, the youth can now easily and freely bypass the severely censored mainstream media – print, radio and television – to produce, distribute and share information and exchange ideas.
Social media researchers describe Facebook as an alternative form of media for many people from all walks of life. They can use this empowering force as a source of information relevant to their social lives. The social media has become their reliable source of educational, social, political, economic and cultural information.
Notwithstanding their numerous benefits and advantages, social media continues to have chilling effects on the youth. In the study, the interviewed young people express concerns about immorality perpetuated by corrupt characters via the social media.
This includes posting of pornographic materials, vulgar language, seditious information and character assassination. What is more disturbing, according to them, is that the social media exposes the underage to the immoral information.
Another great disadvantage is the addictive nature of the social media. Social networking and information sharing form an integral part of their social activity in their everyday lives. As the youth regularly spend most of their time on the social networks right into the wee small hours, they are addicted to the social media.
Worse still, the social media has made the youth develop the astonishing antisocial behaviour. The young social media users are no longer sociable. They always keep to themselves while they are busy with their postings.
The other disadvantage is that of the youth exposure to the risk of human trafficking. The social media is fast becoming a vehicle for human trafficking. International crime syndicates entice the youth via the social media to take up fake lucrative job offers in overseas countries, only to discover it is human trafficking when they arrive at their destinations.
These syndicates take advantage of the friendship and trust built instantly over easy communication via the social media.
As much as the social media is critical in the efforts to inculcate into the young people the culture of freedom of expression and media freedom through access to information, it would be amiss to turn a blind eye to its negative effects on the younger generation who are a future of this nation.
This study suggests five things to be done to counter the negative effects of information posted on the social media sites. One of them is to equip the social media users with media and information literacy skill. The second is to educate the social media users about the advantages and disadvantages.
The third is to encourage a dialogue among the social media users about the benefits of the social networks.
The fourth is to teach the youth how to use the social media as a tool of learning.
The last one is to inculcate in the youth the culture of using the social media responsibly to access electronic library information.
Finally, Nomsa and her peers have found a voice in the unfettered social media in the kingdom.
The study was funded by UNESCO and completed by MISA-Swaziland national director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo. The layout of the report was designed and created by MISA-Swaziland advocacy officer Phakama Shili.
“The marathon trial of The Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko ended yesterday, nearly 115 days after their first arrest,” reported the Times of Swaziland.
Makhubu and Maseko have been in jail for 106 days as the trial played out. Both men were charged with criminal contempt of court in March after writing opinion pieces in which they criticised the actions of the nation’s judiciary, in particular Swaziland chief justice Michael Ramodibedi, who recently stepped down from a senior judicial position in his home country Lesotho.
In their articles Makhubu and Maseko accused the chief justice of acting unlawfully during the arrest and detention of Swaziland’s chief government vehicle inspector.
The Crown argued that the opinion pieces used language that was unfair and disrespectful to the chief justice and the judiciary.
Lawyers for the detained duo said their comments were fair, true and in the public interest.
“Advocate Lucas Maziya, who is part of the defence team, said in his submission, it was accurate to say the CJ massaged the law,” reports the Times of Swaziland.
The Crown’s legal team, led by the DPP, has been pushing hard for a conviction of the two writers.
“The Diretor of Public Prosecutions Nkosinathi Maseko prays the Judge Mpendulo Simelane convicts” Makhubu and Maseko, reports the Swazi Observer.
The presiding judge (Simelane) also features in the opinion articles at the centre of the saga. Defence lawyers at the beginning of proceedings applied for Simelane to recuse himself from the trial but to no avail.
Lawyers for the two detained men have consistently argued that they were “exercising their right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constituion”, reports the Times of Swaziland.
The case has generated a lot of interest in Swaziland and has been reported on by the two daily newspapers, however little has been reported on radio and television which are controlled by the State.
International media has also covered the trial. The Associated Press (AP) and the Washington Post published reports after Maseko delivered a statement from the dock.
“Maseko delivered a blistering attack on the Swazi judiciary and political system in a trial that has focused fresh attention on human rights issues in a country who’s authoritarian system gets little scrutiny in international forums because of the country’s small size and strategic insignificance,” said the article.
The South African press has also covered the story.
“Swaziland and Zimbabwe prisons respectively hold two editors because they either expressed opinions about how their country was governed or allowed for such views to be expressed in their papers,” wrote executive editor of Pretoria News Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moyo in an opinion piece in The Star newspaper.
“This is no different to the times when journalists like Zwelakhe Sisulu, Aggrey Klaaste, Percy Qoboza and many others routinely spent time in apartheid jails for daring to use their journalism platforms to speak truth to power,” said Moyo.
The Times of Swaziland reported that “Judge Simelane said he would take his time to consider all submissions made by both the Crown as well as the defence counsel. The matter was postponed ‘sine die’, meaning until further notice”. The judge said he would inform Makhubu and Maseko when a ruling was ready.
Makhubu and Maseko, who Amnesty International has called “prisoners of conscience”, will remain in jail as judge Simelane considers his ruling.
Yesterday in Swaziland’s high court lawyers for jailed writers “declared that the country’s judiciary is not independent and lacks authority”, reported the Swazi Observer.
The lawyers for journalist Bheki Makhubu and columnist Thulani Maseko — who have been detained for over 100 days as their high profile case plays out — said it is chief justice Michael Ramodibedi who should be in the dock on contempt of court charges.
Makhubu and Maseko were charged with criminal contempt of court in March after writing opinion pieces criticising the actions of Ramodibedi.
They were remanded into jail after a closed meeting in the chief justice’s chambers. In April Makhubu and Maseko were freed from prison after high court judge Mumcy Dlamini found their initial arrests were unlawful.
Two days later, on April 9, another high court judge Mpendulo Simelane – who also features in the articles written by Makhubu and Maseko – sent them back jail where they been since.
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, in promotion of open public debate, encourages individuals and groups to reply and respond to stories or statements that appear on the Forum.
U.S. Responds to Swaziland’s Lack of Protection for Human Rights
Washington – June 27, 2014 – In response to today’s decision by the U.S. Trade Representative to withdraw Swaziland’s eligibility under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Freedom House released the following statement:
“The decision to revoke Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility sends a strong message to a government that has refused to show greater respect for human rights,” said Vukasin Petrovic, director of Africa programs at Freedom House. ” More important, it sets the precedent for the United States not to reward governments that restrict the rights of their citizens through undemocratic laws and repressive practices. As the U.S. Congress begins debate over the renewal of AGOA in the coming year, it should include stronger requirements for democratic governance and respect for human rights to ensure that Africa’s authoritarian countries do not benefit from access to American markets.”
The U.S. Trade Representative noted its decision was made following the Government of Swaziland’s refusal to increase protection of internationally recognized workers’ rights and freedom of association. Withdrawing AGOA benefits could affect Swaziland’s s textile industry, which employs thousands of workers.
Swaziland is rated as Not Free in Freedom in the World 2014 and Freedom of the Press 2014.
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Swaziland Breast and Cervical Cancer Network — Press Release
Swaziland’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Network (SBCCN) has recently diagnosed a 21-year-old woman with breast cancer.
Fikile Kunene* is the youngest known person to ever be diagnosed with breast cancer in Swaziland. At the time of finding out about her condition, she had just been admitted to Limkokwing University of Creative Arts to pursue studies in tourism and travel management. The doctor at the breast cancer clinic said the size of the tumour and the aggressiveness of the cancer mean her treatment is urgent.
To ensure a more successful treatment outcome, and therefore a better chance of saving her life, the doctor said Fikile requires between 4 and 6 cycles of pre-surgery chemotherapy before undergoing a mastectomy (removal of the breast). After the mastectomy, another 6 cycles of post-surgery chemotherapy are required in order to give her the best chance of a full recovery.
Chemotherapy is not available in Swaziland. Patients therefore have to rely on the Phalala Fund in order to access medical services in neighbouring South Africa. The Phalala Fund, however, is currently facing challenges in responding promptly to the needs of patients such as Fikile’s. She is thus expected to join the long queue on the Phalala fund to access treatment.
Time is not on her side as her tumour is spreading rapidly; the doctor has reiterated that her case is urgent. The doctor further explained that breast cancer in such a young person is rare. Only 1.5% of breast cancer cases are found in young people worldwide. Moreover, breast cancer in young patients is generally more aggressive than in older ones.
Fikile’s family cannot afford to pay for her treatment. She is therefore appealing to the kind hearts of Swazi people to help save her life. One cycle of chemotherapy treatment currently costs around R7 600 ($US720). She will therefore need an estimated R70 000 ($US6,600) to go through all the cycles. SBCCN would like to appeal to the business community and individuals who feel they could lend a hand to help this promising young lady. Breast cancer can be controlled if detected and treated early; many survivors have successfully undergone treatment and continue living well.
If you think you are able to help to assist this young lady please call the SBCCN office on +268 2404 9270 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
SBCCN has never gone public with a statement like this before; however because of the young age of the patient and the seriousness of her condition, we feel the urgent need to raise funds in an effort to give Fikile a chance.
For the past 10 years the SBCCN, a not-for-profit organisation, has worked to alleviate the negative effects of breast and cervical cancer in Swaziland. Amongst other programs and activities, the Network helps to prevent and sensitive the community on breast and cervical cancer by offering free breast- and cervical-screening clinics in Mbabane, Manzini and Hlatikhulu.
“Three journalists were convicted of subversive acts by an Egyptian court this past week and sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail. This subversion is, in fact, journalists simply doing their jobs. The plight of the three has received international attention,” said South African newspaper Mail & Guardian in its most recent edition.
It continues: “But less attention has been given to journalists jailed and under fire in the rest of Africa. In Swaziland, editor Bheki Makhubu and rights activist Thulani Maseko will already have spent 105 days in jail when they appear in court on Tuesday (June 1) on contempt charges.”