A sad day for Swazi media as court commits a travesty of justice
On 17 July 2014 the High Court in Mbabane, Swaziland, has found two respected human rights activists guilty of contempt of court in relation to articles published in The Nation magazine in February and March 2014. The articles were critical of the conduct of Swaziland’s Chief Justice, Michael Ramodibedi.
Throughout the trial of The Nation's editor Bheki Makhubu and the prominent human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, defence lawyers argued that the men were “exercising their right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution”. In his judgment, Presiding Judge Mpendulo Simelane attacked journalists, saying Swaziland’s Constitution does not grant absolute rights for freedom of expression, and therefore journalists must exercise caution. Judge Simelane had also been referred to in the articles. He added, “Journalists think that just because they have the power of the pen they can write anyhow under the guise of freedom of expression.”
The media responds
The Regional Governing Council (RGC) of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has labelled the conviction of prominent human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and The Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu on contempt of court charges "a travesty of justice".
MISA-Swaziland Director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo condemned the conviction, thus, “It spells doom for the future of journalism and practicing journalists in the country,” he said. “It further stifles media development because it instills fear in journalists and citizens who want to express their views. Without the participation of all Swazis through the media, the king’s vision of taking Swaziland to the first world by 2022 will remain a mirage.
“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.”
Swaziland suffers for loss of media freedom
Throughout the Southern Arican region, MISA members have denounced this as a sad day for media freedom in Swaziland, and have called on the global free expression movement to turn the spotlight on this travesty of justice in Swaziland. “From the outset of the trial, it was clear that the court always intended to deliver a guilty verdict, in what we see as a farcical miscarriage of justice and frightening indictment of the lack of media freedom in Swaziland,” said Anthony Kasunda, Chairperson of the MISA RGC. “Rather than convicted criminals, we consider our colleagues to be political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. We call on Swazi authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally.”
Kasunda confirmed that MISA would continue its support and solidarity of Maseko and Makhubu, and would make every effort to publicise this injustice as well as garner regional solidarity for their cause. The Suomi/Africa network joins this cause, and continues to press for the release of these men, and for the promotion of media freedoms n Swaziland an throughout the continent.