Search This Blog

Loading...

For more coverage follow us also on Twitter and Facebook


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

US BACKS CONVICTED SWAZI JOURNALISTS

The US State Department has joined the growing chorus of outrage at the High Court conviction of an editor and a human rights lawyer in Swaziland for publishing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary.

In a statement the State Department said, ‘The United States is deeply concerned by the convictions of human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and magazine editor Bheki Makhubu for contempt of court in the Kingdom of Swaziland.’

Makhubu and Maseko will be sentenced on a date still to be announced.

The State department said, ‘Their convictions for contempt of court for publishing an article critical of the High Court of Swaziland and their ongoing prolonged detention appear to undermine respect for Swaziland’s human rights obligations, particularly the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Swaziland’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States strongly supports the universal fundamental freedom of expression and is deeply concerned by the actions of the Swazi Government.’

Last month (June 2014) the United States withdrew preferential trading status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) from Swaziland because the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was not ‘making continual progress’ in enacting civil, political and workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders described the conviction of Makhubu and Maseko after articles appeared in the Nation magazine, a monthly comment magazine with a print run of only 3,000 copies, as a ‘shockingly unfair decision in Africa’s last monarchy by a judicial system that claims to be independent but is not’.

Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk, said, ‘This conviction is completely absurd. Makhubu and Maseko have been convicted of criticizing irregularities in the judicial system by a man who is plaintiff and judge at the same time.

‘The way these proceedings have been conducted is proof of the accuracy of the articles for which they have been convicted. This is clearly a political verdict designed to gag Swaziland’s only independent publication. It will also send a chilling message to all other Swazi journalists.’

In the UK, Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) Campaigns Manager Mark Beacon said, ‘This was a highly politicised trial and yet another example of how the Swazi regime uses the judicial system to crush anyone who dares to criticise them. ACTSA joins with voices in Swaziland calling on the government to release Thulani Makeko, Bheki Makhubu and all human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally.’

In the Swazi High Court, Justice Mpendulo Simelani said that despite the Constitution of Swaziland the right to freedom of expression was not absolute but limited. 

Reacting to the verdict, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) said, ‘The SAHRDN restates the well-founded and recognised position that the freedom of expression, and in particular freedom of the media and press, is critical to maintaining an open and democratic society. 

‘The SAHRDN is of the considered view that in convicting the two for allegedly authoring articles critical of actions of the judiciary, by narrowly reading and interpreting the right to freedom of expression in the Swazi Constitution, Justice Mpendulo Simelane has exhibited the stark intolerance of the judiciary to criticism and impacted negatively on the perception of the ability of judicial officers to protect all citizens equally and without fear or favour. 

‘These developments in Swaziland have exposed the judiciary and made a mockery to the state of democracy in Swaziland, SADC [Southern Africa Development Community] and indeed Africa as a whole. As one of the arms of government, the Swazi judiciary is expected to protect the fundamental rights of citizens and not contribute to their violation through court decisions.’

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in Geneva, in a statement said it was concerned by Messrs. Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko’s conviction, as it only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities, and calls upon the Swazi authorities to release Messrs. Maseko and Makhubu immediately and unconditionally, and to put an end to the continued judicial harassment against them.’

In Swaziland itself, the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo said of the conviction, ‘It spells doom for the future of journalism and practicing journalists in the country," he said. "It further stifles media development because it instils fear in journalists and citizens who want to express their views.’

In a statement Hlatshwayo said, ‘MISA-Swaziland appeals to the Swazi authorities to uphold and respect section 24 of the Constitution, which protects free speech and media freedom. They must know that a free and independent media is the catalyst for the social economic development of any country. Because if people are not allowed to express their views on issues affecting their daily lives, there is no way the decision makers can make informed and relevant policies. 

‘MISA-Swaziland reaffirms its position that dissenting views are healthy and are not to be confused with disloyalty. MISA-Swaziland continues to stand by prisoners of conscience Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko.’

Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in Cape Town, said, ‘[The] ruling is an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression.’

Freedom House, in Washington, called the conviction a ‘show trial’. Jenai Cox, program manager for Africa programs at Freedom House, said, ‘The judiciary has become an instrument of repression, as King Mswati attempts secure his grip on power.’

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a statement said, ‘The Court’s ruling and events that transpired before it fall short of Swaziland’s international obligations to respect the rights to freedom of expression and fair trial.’

It added, ‘The conviction of Thulani and Bheki shows that the law as implemented in Swaziland does not adequately protect the right to freedom of expression and that it unduly shields the courts from public scrutiny.’

Amnesty International, which declared the pair ‘prisoners of conscience’ after they were arrested in March 2014, said the verdict was, ‘a violation of international human rights standards as well as the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland’. It said in a statement the pair were exercising ‘freedom of expression’.

It called for the immediate release of the men and is urging supporters to write to Swaziland’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Sibusiso Shongwe to protest, ‘the arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and impartial proceedings’ surrounding the trial.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, based in Washington, said that during the trial, ‘the presiding judge disallowed much of the defense testimony and reserved judgment on sentencing “indefinitely,” meaning the two will remain behind bars for the foreseeable future and raising further questions about the independence and fairness of Swaziland’s judicial system’.

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center, said in a statement, ‘This arbitrary decision makes a mockery of justice and deals a severe blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland. King Mswati III must act swiftly to reaffirm the rule of law in his country and to ensure that his citizens’ fundamental human rights are protected.’

See also

JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM
SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS
WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE
COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER
EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM



Swaziland’s High Court has sent a chilling warning to journalists in the kingdom that the law courts can determine what they are permitted to write and what they are not.

High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane ruled that Section 24 of Swaziland’s Constitution that includes guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom of the press can be overridden by judges.

In a ruling in which he convicted a magazine editor and a writer of contempt of court, Judge Simelane said, ‘No one has the right to attack a judge or the Courts under the disguise of the right of freedom of expression.’ He said this was ‘because it is in the public interest that the authority and dignity of the Court is maintained’. 

Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko had written and published articles in the Nation, a monthly magazine in Swaziland, that were critical of the Swazi judiciary in general and Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi in particular.

The pair are awaiting sentence on a date yet to be set.

In his judgment, Judge Simelane said, ‘The rule of law is meant to benefit everyone.  Some journalists have this misconception that just because they have the power of the pen and paper they can say or write anything under the disguise of freedom of expression.’

The judge’s ruling has been criticized across the world. Amnesty International said, ‘Their detention and trial violate their right to exercise freedom of expression as guaranteed under Swaziland's domestic and international human rights obligations.’

The International Commission of Journalists said, ‘The right of freedom of expression is a right which is foundational to free societies.

‘Its respect is recognized as a necessary condition for the realization of transparency and accountability that are essential for the promotion, protection and realization of human rights.

‘It includes the right to impart information to others in almost any form. It covers both facts and opinions.’

Committee to Protect Journalists Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine called the ruling, ‘an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression’.

Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of Robert F. Kennedy Partners for Human Rights said, ‘A judicial system that is ready to deny freedom of expression to shield itself from criticism cannot legitimately claim to be administering justice”, and added, ‘Public officials, such as judges and magistrates, by the very nature of their position should be freely scrutinized by the population.’

Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) Campaigns Manager Mark Beacon said, ‘This was a highly politicised trial and yet another example of how the Swazi regime uses the judicial system to crush anyone who dares to criticise them.’

Cléa Kahn-Sriber, head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk, said, ‘This is clearly a political verdict designed to gag Swaziland’s only independent publication. It will also send a chilling message to all other Swazi journalists.’

Innocent Maphalala, editor of the Times Sunday, a newspaper in Swaziland, where nearly all broadcast media are state-controlled and one of the kingdom’s only two newspaper groups is in effect owned by King Mswati III, called the court ruling, ‘a sad day for Swazi journalists’.

Dr. Maxwell Mthembu, a journalism and mass communication lecturer at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) told local media the judgment suppressed media freedom ‘at a time when the media has already been turned into a lap dog’.

The Observer Sunday quoted him saying, ‘The judgment is oblivious of the fact that the media has to monitor and keep check of the three arms of government. It concludes that the judiciary is beyond reproach. That is not proper because the media has to ensure those checks,’

He added, ‘This is really bad for the media because it breeds censorship. What this judgment means is that the media can no longer touch the judiciary.’

See also
WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE

COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER

EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’

Saturday, 19 July 2014

SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS



Support grows throughout the world for the two journalists in Swaziland who were convicted of contempt of court and may face up to 10 years in jail.

Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer who contributes to the small-circulation monthly journal, wrote and published articles critical of the Swazi judiciary and in particular the Swaziland Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

They were convicted at the Swaziland High Court on Thursday (17 July 2014) and are in jail awaiting sentence. Media speculation in South Africa is that the pair could face up to 10 years in prison. 

Amnesty International, which declared the pair ‘prisoners of conscience’ after they were arrested in March 2014, said the verdict was, ‘a violation of international human rights standards as well as the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland’. It said in a statement the pair were exercising ‘freedom of expression’.

It called for the immediate release of the men and is urging supporters to write to Swaziland’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Sibusiso Shongwe to protest, ‘the arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and impartial proceedings’ surrounding the trial.

Part of the letter reads, ‘I urge Swaziland authorities to protect, respect and fulfil the right of freedom of expression for all people; to cease all harassment, intimidation and unlawful legal proceedings against human rights defenders; and to ensure that the persons responsible for such human rights violations are held accountable.’

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a statement said, ‘The Court’s ruling and events that transpired before it fall short of Swaziland’s international obligations to respect the rights to freedom of expression and fair trial.’

It added, ‘The conviction of Thulani and Bheki shows that the law as implemented in Swaziland does not adequately protect the right to freedom of expression and that it unduly shields the courts from public scrutiny.’

The ICJ statement continued, ‘The ICJ and others have consistently raised concern that the arrest of the two human rights defenders, their detention and proceedings against them were inconsistent with international standards.

‘The legality of the arrest, detention and charges against Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu were successfully challenged before High Court Judge Mumcy Dhlamini, resulting in their release from custody for two days.

‘However, the men were rearrested and detained when the State appealed Judge Mumcy Dhlamini’s ruling. But were retained in custody when the two had cross-appealed that decision.

Their trial was also been characterized by numerous, often-long postponements.’

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, based in Washington, said that during the trial, ‘the presiding judge disallowed much of the defense testimony and reserved judgment on sentencing “indefinitely,” meaning the two will remain behind bars for the foreseeable future and raising further questions about the independence and fairness of Swaziland’s judicial system’.

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center, said in a statement, ‘This arbitrary decision makes a mockery of justice and deals a severe blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland. King Mswati III must act swiftly to reaffirm the rule of law in his country and to ensure that his citizens’ fundamental human rights are protected.’

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and appoints the judges in his kingdom.

Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of Robert F. Kennedy partners for Human Rights, said, ‘A judicial system that is ready to deny freedom of expression to shield itself from criticism cannot legitimately claim to be administering justice.’

Canton added, ‘Public officials, such as judges and magistrates, by the very nature of their position should be freely scrutinized by the population.’

Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in Cape Town, said, ‘[The] ruling is an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression.’

Freedom House, in Washington, called the conviction a ‘show trial’. Jenai Cox, program manager for Africa programs at Freedom House, said, ‘The judiciary has become an instrument of repression, as King Mswati attempts secure his grip on power.’

See also

WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE

COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER

EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/07/editor-and-lawyer-face-10-years-jail.html

WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE



A magazine editor and human rights lawyer in Swaziland face up to ten years in jail after being convicted of contempt of court for criticizing the judiciary and the kingdom’s Chief Justice in articles published in the Nation, a tiny-circulation monthly news magazine.

The conviction of Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko has sparked outrage around the world. In his judgment, High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane said, ‘the Constitution does not grant an absolute right of freedom of expression’.

Media are heavily censored in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The court judgment delivered on Thursday (17 July 2014) contained the specific words in the articles complained of.

These are the words as published that could land two men in jail for ten years.

‘The Accused persons, [Makhubu, Maseko and Independent Publishers, the publisher of the Nation] are charged as follows:-

                      “COUNT ONE
Accused 1, 2 and 3 are guilty of the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT
In that upon or about the month of February 2014 and at or near Mbabane area in the Hhohho Region, the said accused each or all of them acting jointly in furtherance of a common purpose, did write and publish an article entitled “Speaking my mind” about the case which was first dealt with before the Chief Justice His Lordship Justice Ramodibedi of THE KING VERSUS BHANTSHANA VINCENT GWEBU HIGH COURT CASE NO. 25/2014, a criminal matter currently pending before the High Court of Swaziland and therefore sub judice, which article’s passages are quoted:-

(a)        ‘Like Caiaphus, Ntate Justice Ramodibedi seems to have chosen to use his higher station in life to bully those in a weaker position as a means to consolidate his power.  Like Caiaphus, Ntate Justice Ramodibedi seems to be in a path to create his legacy by pushing the small man so that he can sleep easy at night well knowing that he has sent a message to all who dare cross him that they will be put in their right place.  Let us not forget that Caiaphus was not only the high priest of Judea.  He was the chief justice of all Jewish law and had only the immense power to pass judgment on anyone among his people who transgressed the law.  Ditto Ntate Justice Ramodibedi in Swaziland.’

(b)       ‘When this lowly public servant from Bulunga appeared before him on Monday after a warrant for his arrest had been issued, Gwebu was denied the right to legal representation because, Ntate Justice Ramodibedi is reported to have said, the lawyer was not there when the car was impounded at the weekend.’

(c)        ‘Like Caiaphus, our Chief Justice “massaged” the law to suit his own agenda.’

(d)       ‘What is incredible about the similarities between Caiaphus and Ntate Justice Ramodibedi is that both men had willing servants to help them break the law.’

and did thereby unlawfully and intentionally violate the dignity, repute or authority of the said Court before which the matter is pending, and thereby commit the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT.

COUNT TWO
 Accused 1, 2, 3 and 4 are guilty of the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT.

In that upon or about the month of March 2014 and at or near Mbabane area in the Hhohho Region, the said accused each or all of them acting jointly and in furtherance of a common purpose, did write and publish an article entitled “Where the law has no place” about the case which was first dealt with before the Chief Justice His Lordship Justice Ramodibedi of THE KING VERSUS BHANTSHANA VINCENT GWEBU HIGH COURT CASE NO. 25/2014,  a criminal matter currently pending before the High Court of Swaziland and therefore sub judice, which article’s passages are quoted:-

(a)         ‘The arrest of Bhantshana Gwebu early in the year is a demonstration of how corrupt the power system has become in this country.’

(b)         ‘We should be deeply concerned about such conduct displayed by the head of the judiciary in the country.  Such conduct deprives the court of its moral authority; it is a demonstration of moral bankruptcy.  A judiciary that is morally bankrupt cannot dispense justice without fear or favour as the oath of the office dictates.’

(c)         ‘Many will say that what we saw is nothing but a travesty of justice in its highest form.’

(d)         ‘In more ways than one, this was a repeat of the Justice Thomas Masuku kangaroo process where the Chief Justice was prosecutor, witness and judge in his own cause.’

(e)         ‘It would appear as some suggest, that Gwebu had to be “dealt with” for sins he committed in the past, confiscating cars belonging to the powerful, including the Chief Justice himself.  It is such perceptions that make people lose faith in institutions of power, when it appears that such institutions are used to settle personal scores at the expense of justice and fairness.’

and did thereby unlawfully and intentionally violate the dignity, repute or authority of the said Court before which the matter is pending, and thereby commit the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT.”

In his judgment, Judge Simelane said by writing and publishing the words, ‘The Accused persons scandalized, insulted and brought to disrepute the dignity and authority of the Chief Justice.’


See also

COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER

EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’