The Swaziland human rights lawyer and journalist Thulani Maseko has vowed that he will not seek bail pending an appeal of his jail sentence for contempt of court because he has been imprisoned unjustly.
Maseko and Bheki Makhubu were arrested in March 2014 and subsequently jailed for two years after they wrote and published articles critical of the Swazi judiciary in the Nation magazine.
Writing from his jail cell for the February 2015 edition of the Nation, Maseko said, ‘I have refused to apply for bail because we are in prison for expressing dissent and pointing out to an injustice. And jail time will not change this fact. We are in jail not by mistake, but because of a clean and clear conscience, and we are innocent of the crimes for which we have been sentenced. Those who are keeping us in jail are the guilty ones; and I cannot beg them for my release.’
He wrote, ‘As I concluded the statement of defense from the dock on June 05, 2014, I said: “I do not, for a moment, believe that in finding me guilty and imposing a penalty on me for the charge I face, the court should be moved by the belief that penalties deter men from a cause they believe is right. History shows that penalties do not deter men and women when their conscience is aroused.”’
The jailing of Maseko and Makhubu sparked an international outcry. Amnesty International named them ‘prisoners of conscience’.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a statement said, ‘The Court’s ruling and events that transpired before it fall short of Swaziland’s international obligations to respect the rights to freedom of expression and fair trial.’
It added, ‘The conviction of Thulani and Bheki shows that the law as implemented in Swaziland does not adequately protect the right to freedom of expression and that it unduly shields the courts from public scrutiny.’
Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, based in Washington, said in a statement, ‘This arbitrary decision makes a mockery of justice and deals a severe blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland. King Mswati III must act swiftly to reaffirm the rule of law in his country and to ensure that his citizens’ fundamental human rights are protected.’
King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and appoints the judges in his kingdom.
Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in Cape Town, said, ‘[The] ruling is an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression.’
Freedom House, in Washington, called the conviction a ‘show trial’. Jenai Cox, program manager for Africa programs at Freedom House, said, ‘The judiciary has become an instrument of repression, as King Mswati attempts secure his grip on power.’
In October 2014, Makhubu, who edits the Nation, won the Press Freedom Award at the CNN / Multichoice Journalism Awards.
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