Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine in Swaziland, who faces two years in jail for contempt by scandalising the court, is to appeal his sentence, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Windhoek, Namibia, reported.
Bheki Makhubu, and the Nation publisher Swaziland Independent Publishers were on Wednesday (17 April 2013) ordered to pay E200,000 (US$22,000) in fines within three days.
If payment is not made Makhubu will go to jail for two years.
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, a veteran journalist and current national director of the Swaziland chapter of MISA, called the judgment an ‘assault to media freedom and free speech’.
Hlatshwayo, who is also a director and founding member of the Nation magazine, said, ‘The Nation is the only publication in Swaziland that speaks truth to power and is the voice of the voiceless in a country that is fast becoming a police state.
‘The fine imposed by the judge is also a total clampdown on media freedom - it sends a strong and disturbing signal to the already censored newspapers and broadcast media.’
In a statement, MISA quoted Secretary-General of the Swaziland Editors’ Forum Jabu Matsebula saying the ruling against the Nation was one of the heaviest fines ever handed down in the kingdom.
‘It will certainly have a chilling effect on the press and on citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of expression,’ Matsebula said.
Makhubu and the Nation were convicted of criminal contempt after publishing two articles in 2009 and 2010 that Swaziland High Court Judge Bheki Maphalala ruled were ‘treasonous if not subversive in the extreme’.
He found they had a ‘tendency to bring the administration of justice into disrepute’.
Makhubu had accused the Swazi Supreme Court, ‘of not being impartial and that their decision not to allow multipartism in this country was actuated by an improper agenda which they were pursuing and that it was not based on law and their conscience’.
Judge Maphalala said that a one of the articles by Makhubu was, ‘a scurrilous attack on the Chief Justice [Michael Ramodibedi], as a Judge of this court.
‘The article unlawfully and intentionally violated and impugned his dignity and authority; it was calculated or intended to lower his authority and interfere with the administration of justice.’
Protests against Makhubu’s sentence have been made across the world, but so far no media outlet in Swaziland has made a public condemnation of the court’s decision.
VOICES SUPPORTING BELEAGUERED EDITOR
A TALE OF TWO SWAZI EDITORS
PUDEMO CONDEMNS EDITOR’S CONVICTION
ARTICLES THAT MIGHT GET EDITOR JAILED
SOUTH AFRICA EDITORS BACK MAKHUBU
HIGH COURT SUPPRESSES MEDIA FREEDOM
MISA: EDITOR’S CONVICTION ‘BRUTAL’
EDITOR’S CONTEMPT SENTENCE ‘SHOCKING’
EDITOR SET FOR TWO YEARS IN JAIL