All opposition to the rule of absolute monarch King Mswati III of Swaziland is treated as ‘terrorism’, according to a new analysis of the legal system in the kingdom.
Courts in Swaziland do the King’s bidding and lawyers regularly face intimidation.
The analysis was published by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) to mark International Day of the Endangered Lawyer on Friday (22 January 2016).
The report written by Annabel Raw and Caroline James said, ‘In Swaziland, opposition to the King and the political system which prohibits political parties is treated as terrorism and the courts have often been seen to do the King’s bidding.
‘Swazi lawyers regularly face intimidation when they challenge this status quo.
‘In August 2014, human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze attended a civil society event in Washington DC held at the White House to coincide with the US-Africa Summit hosted by American President Barack Obama. At the time, there had been a crackdown on free expression in Swaziland and a number of political and social activists were in prison or facing charges resulting from their criticism of the Swazi King and political system.
‘Gumedze was photographed with a colleague from the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) holding a banner saying “Free Speech in Swaziland NOW!” Soon after, the Prime Minister of Swaziland, Barnabus Sibusiso Dlamini, said, in a speech to Parliament, that Gumedze and his colleague should be “strangled” on their return to Swaziland.
‘Another of these lawyers, Thulani Maseko, spent fifteen months in prison in 2014 and 2015 after he was charged and convicted of contempt of court for writing an article that was critical of the then-Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. Maseko was described as a “disgrace to the legal profession” by the presiding judge, Mpendulo Simelane, when he was sentenced. Ramodibedi and Simelane have since been charged with defeating the ends of justice – in essence what Maseko was attempting to highlight in his article.’
The analysis concluded, ‘The beauty of the law and the potential of an independent judiciary is that no matter who you are, you are beholden to the same rules as everyone else. Even kings and armies must comply with the rule of law. It is vital that lawyers are able as professionals to serve the law’s potential in being free to represent their clients independently and with zeal, being able to speak freely when shining light on violations of the law, and to defend the rights of the vulnerable, even against the most powerful. It is an idea that the international community has recognised and affirmed as indispensable to the rule of law and the realisation of human rights.’