Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine in Swaziland, and writer and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were convicted of contempt of court by the kingdom’s High Court on Thursday (17 July 2014).
This followed the writing and publication of articles critical of the Swaziland judiciary and in particular of the Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.
In delivering his verdict, Judge Mpendulo Simelane rejected evidence given during the trial by Thulani Maseko, saying it was irrelevant and a political gimmick. Maseko had delivered a statement in open court in which he criticised King Mswati and outlined ways in which Swaziland could not be considered a democracy. The judge said the statement amounted to a call for regime change in the kingdom.
Judge Simelane also said that constitutionally there was no absolute right to freedom of expression in Swaziland. He said that both accused men incited the public against the courts.
The Nation is a monthly magazine which only prints 3,000 copies a month that circulate in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The judgment was reported live across a number of social media platforms, something unprecedented in Swaziland where mainstream media are heavily censored. Nearly all broadcasting is state controlled and one of only two daily newspaper groups in the kingdom is in effect owned by King Mswati.
Sentence will be imposed after statements of mitigation from Makhubu and Maseko have been heard.