18. July 2014

No justice for critics of Africa’s only absolute monarchy

Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and editor of ‘The Nation’ magazine Bheki Makhubu were convicted for contempt of court on Thursday, 17 July by High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane.
Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko were first detained by police on 17/18 March after Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi initiated charges for contempt of court. The two were accused of writing articles in ‘The Nation’ magazine criticising the lack of impartiality of the judiciary and the Chief Justice’s earlier decision to charge Bantshana Gwebu, the Chief Government Vehicle Inspector for contempt of court, after he charged a high court judge’s driver for abuse of a government vehicle.
Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko have remained in custody since their arrest, apart from three days at the beginning of April when another High Court Judge Mumcy Dlamini set aside the warrant for their arrest and released them, after their lawyers argued it was unconstitutional and unlawful. The Chief Justice had them rearrested on 9 April.
In his judgement on the two Judge Mpendulo Simelane dismissed almost all the evidence given by the defence and their witnesses. He has reserved sentencing until a later date. Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko’s lawyers say they intend to appeal.
Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko’s case is one of a number of recent politicised cases targeting Swaziland’s pro democracy movement. At the end of April seven members of the banned political party PUDEMO were arrested and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act for allegedly wearing political t-shirts. On 1 May PUDEMO President Mario Masuku and youth leader Maxwell Dlamini were arrested and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act for allegedly saying “viva PUDEMO” and “down with Tinkhundla” (repressive system of government) at a rally.

Background: Mpendulo Simelane was appointed as a high court judge by King Mswati in February 2014. The Law Society of Swaziland have called for Judge Simelane to be removed, arguing that he does not qualify to be a judge as he has only practiced for five years as a Crown Counsel, less than the 10 years required by the constitution. Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko’s lawyers argued that Judge Simelane should not be allowed to hear their case as he is mentioned in the articles they were charged with contempt of court for writing.
The Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, who brought the charges against Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko recently resigned from the Lesotho judiciary after facing impeachment charges.
Thulani Maseko is a well respected human rights lawyer and a leading member of Swazi Lawyers for Human Rights. Bheki Makhubu is editor of ‘The Nation’ Magazine http://www.theswazination.co.sz (ACTSA, London)

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