Swaziland violated human rights law by arresting and jailing a magazine editor and a human rights lawyer after they criticised the kingdom’s judiciary, according to Amnesty International.
It added the arrests were, ‘another shocking example of the southern African kingdom’s intolerance of freedom of expression’.
Amnesty has declared both men ‘prisoners of conscience’.
Bheki Makhubu, editor of Swaziland’s monthly news magazine The Nation and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko are being held at Sidwashini Remand Prison in Mbabane, after ‘highly irregular legal proceedings’.
Amnesty reported, ‘They were arbitrarily arrested under defective warrants, denied access to their lawyers and remanded in custody after summary proceedings held behind closed doors.’
Mary Rayner, researcher on Swaziland at Amnesty International, said in a statement, ‘These arbitrary arrests and highly irregular legal proceedings amount to judicial retribution rather than justice being delivered, and are further evidence of Swaziland’s intolerance of freedom of expression. It violates international human rights standards and has no basis in Swaziland’s domestic law.’
She added, ‘We consider Bhekithemba Makhubu and Thulani Maseko to be prisoners of conscience, arrested and detained merely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. The Swaziland authorities must release them immediately and unconditionally.’
The two men are accused of contempt of court by writing articles published in the Nation in February and March 2014 that criticised the circumstances surrounding the case of Chief Government Vehicle Inspector, Bhantshana Gwebu. Gwebu had been arrested and charged with contempt of court after he arrested a driver of High Court Judge Esther Ota. Gwebu spent nine days at the Sidwashini Correctional facility before he was released on E15,000 (US$1,500) bail.
Amnesty reported, ‘The warrant used to arrest them, issued by Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, apparently subverted the normal legal process. The police at Mbabane police station, where the men were initially detained prior to their appearance before the Chief Justice, also appear to have been acting under instructions when they denied their lawyers access.
‘Normal criminal procedure dictates the men should have then appeared before a magistrate. Instead, they were taken to the Chief Justice’s chambers for what turned out to be summary proceedings. Their lawyers were not permitted to make any submissions and the Chief Justice went on to remand them in custody without the opportunity to apply for bail.
‘It’s clear that the Chief Justice has a prevailing conflict of interest in this case, and the Swaziland authorities have no grounds on which to hold these men, other than apparent vindictiveness by a powerful public official.’
SWAZI EDITOR AND LAWYER JAILED