The arrest and subsequent sentencing of a newspaper editor and a human rights lawyer in Swaziland over contempt of court charges has ruffled feathers on the international scene, forcing Amnesty International to issue a reprimanding statement.
Bhekithemba Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, editor of Swaziland’s monthly news magazine The Nation and human rights lawyer respectively were last week sentenced to two years in prison without the possibility of paying a fine.
Amnesty International argues that there was injustice on the way the matter was handled due to the fact that the presiding judge was one of those named in the article in question.
Prior to the judgement, the Minister of Justice is reportedly said to have had a meeting with the judge in the chambers.
The sentences were backdated to March 2014 when the men were arrested and detained under orders of the Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. The Nation magazine together with its publishers were fined R100,000 (approximately USD 9,500), our sources said.
The contempt of court charges arose from two articles published in The Nation magazine in February 2014 in which the convicted men had raised concerns about judicial independence and integrity in Swaziland.
“With this sentence, Swaziland is sending the message that raising any concerns about judicial independence is out of bounds. It is a deplorable attack on freedom of expression in the country,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International Regional Director for Southern Africa.
Both men, whom Amnesty International regard as prisoners of conscience, were arrested in March under defective warrants, denied access to their lawyers and remanded in custody after summary proceedings behind closed doors. .
“It is appalling that such a blatant conflict of interest was ignored and that the trial was allowed to continue. This was clearly a politically motivated trial which contravened both domestic legal processes and international human rights standards,” said Deprose Muchena.
“We consider Bhekithemba Makhubu and Thulani Maseko to be prisoners of conscience, arrested and detained merely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. The authorities in Swaziland must release them immediately and unconditionally.”