STATEMENT BY SUOMI/AFRICA ON THE WRONGFUL DETENTION AND HARASSMENT OF
BHEKI MAKHUBU AND THULANI MASEKO
The recent detention and harassment, in Swaziland, of the prominent editor-in-chief of The Nation, Bheki Makhubu, and of the distinguished human rights lawyer, Thulani Rudolf Maseko, stand as testament to the continuing disregard for human rights in that country. Mr Maseko and Mr Makhubu were arrested on 17 and 18 March, 2014, respectively, following the publication of articles in February and March, which were critical of the Swazi judicial system. The 'crime' committed by these two brave men was to question issues associated with the arrest of a government vehicle inspector by the name of Mr Bhantshana Vincent Gwebu. Specifically, Mr Makhubu and Mr Maseko were concerned with a lack of impartiality indicated by this inspector's arrest.
On 18 March both men were subjected to a private hearing in the chambers of Chief Justice Ditto Ntate Ramodibedi - who had issued the arrest warrant. This was a breach of Swazi law; Chief Justice Ramodibedi violated Section 21 of the Swazi Constitution, which guarantees the right to a fair trial. Furthermore, both men's lawyers were able to attend the hearing in the Chief Justice’s chambers only by chance; they were not informed that the hearing was set to take place, or where. At the hearing, Chief Justice Ramodibedi remanded them into custody, held at the Sidwashini correctional facility in Mbabane, ahead of a bail hearing set for 25 March.
Brave men, with a right to be heard
The Suomi/Africa network is openly proud of Bheki Makhubu. He is one of our number. One of the continent's bravest and most forthright journalists, Bheki has stood many times for many years for propriety in public life. A year ago, he was sentenced on charges of “scandalising the court”, and ordered to pay a fine of E400,000 (EUR26,758) for publishing articles in November 2009 and January 2010, which highlighted irregularities in the Swazi judiciary. Mr Makhubu's lawyers filed an appeal which is still pending at the High Court. Similarly, Mr Maseko has endured court action for committing himself to the promotion of proper public governance. He was charged in 2009 with contravening the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, in a case that was never brought to trial.
The Swazi authorities have been wrong before to charge these men, and to detain and fine them. These authorities are equally wrong in their actions now. The Suomi/Africa network calls for their freedom from persecution and prosecution, and for their freedom to speak on issues that matter to Swazis and to Africans everywhere.