The Swaziland magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko had their jail sentences overturned by the Supreme Court after immense international pressure, but this will not change the judicial system in the kingdom.
The pair were convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for writing and publishing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.
On Tuesday (30 June 2015) the pair was released by the Supreme Court after judges ruled their conviction by the High Court was unsupportable. They had been in jail since March 2014.
Now, two of the groups involved in the campaign to free the two men are warning that the overturning of the conviction does not mean the judicial system has changed in Swaziland.
King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and he picks the top judges. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King choses the Prime Minister and the government. Groups that campaign for democracy are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
Reacting to the release of Makhubu and Maseko, Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary, said, ‘Their release just a couple of weeks before the end of their prison sentences should not be seen as a sign of progress in Swaziland. International pressure has helped get them released early, and needs to be sustained to bring about respect for fundamental rights in Swaziland, which is one of the worst countries for violations against workers’ rights.’
Pressure came from all over the world, including the United Nations and the European Parliament. Amnesty International had named the two men prisoners of conscience.
In June 2015, The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) called for the immediate release of the two men and said they should be paid ‘adequate compensation, enforceable by law’.
Organisations within Swaziland and Africa as well as outside the continent demanded the release of the two who wrote and published articles in a tiny-circulation monthly magazine the Nation, critical of the Swazi judiciary and the then Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.
One of these groups, the Swaziland Solidarity Network, in a statement called the judiciary, ‘a tool of oppression of Mswati’s government. As long as the king remains an absolute monarch, there will never be any judicial independence in the country.’
It added. ‘This capitulation by the despot king is a direct result of the political pressure he has received from the Mass Democratic Movement, international institutions and foreign states. Without this pressure the two would still be languishing in prison. We therefore take the time to acknowledge the moral, financial and political support from those institutions.’
Ramodibedi was sacked from his post on 17 June 2015 after a Judicial Service Commission hearing found him guilty of abuse of power. Ramodibedi left Swaziland for his home country of Lesotho. A warrant for his arrest has been issued in Swaziland.
SUPREME COURT FREES JAILED WRITERS