Open letter to The Hon Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, Prime Minister of Swaziland,
concerning the detention of Bheki Mukhubu and Thulani Maseko
The Hon Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, Prime Minister of Swaziland
PO Box 395
4th June 2014
Dear Prime Minister
Re: Detention of Bheki Mukhubu and Thulani Maseko
We are the Suomi/Africa network. We are writing to express our concern regarding the 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. They were arrested 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.
Since that date, events have conspired to show a pattern of continuing harassment of these men, by Chief Justice Ramodibedi. Maseko challenged Ramodibedi’s warrant of arrest on 28 March, but the challenge was dismissed. Their case was presented before High Court Judge Mumcy Dlamini, after postponements, on 6 April. Judge Dlamini set aside the warrants of arrest, and released Makhubu and Maseko from custody However, the following day Ramodibedi filed notice of appeal against Dlamini’s decision, and on 9 April another magistrate, Judge Mpendulo Simelane, issued new warrants for the arrest of Makhubu and Maseko, who were returned to custody. The two men made a brief court appearance at this time - and although no date was set at that time for their next hearing, and the men's lawyers filed notice of appeal against Judge Simelane’s decision, they were returned into custody, in a maximum security prison. Whilst incarcerated, Makhubu and Maseko have been forced to wear leg-irons, whenever they are away from their cells - for court appearances, and when they have visitors. Both men, who are not to be regarded as security risks, have been transported to and from their court appearances escorted by cars carrying heavily armed officers.
We are disappointed furthermore, to learn of the four-year jail term and E400,000 fine set aside by the Supreme Court, and the three-month suspended sentence and E30,000 fine presented at court, on 30 May. The context of dissent amongst the Swazi judiciary adds to our displeasure, echoed around the world, at the Swaziland Chief Justice's actions.
We urge freedom, and we urge change.
Bheki Mukhubu is a member of the Suomi/Africa network. One of the continent's bravest and most forthright journalists, Bheki has stood many times for many years for propriety in public life. His articles have highlighted irregularities in the Swazi judiciary. In this regard, he shares the same principles as Thulani Maseko, who has committed himself to the promotion of proper public governance in Swaziland.
We urge you to consider the case of these two men, and to represent their interests to the appropriate Swazi authorities - with regard to their detention and harassment. We call, in this letter, for their freedom from persecution and prosecution, and for their freedom to speak on issues that matter to Swazis and to Africans everywhere.
The Suomi/Africa Network of Journalists:
Andrew Thomas Croft, Seija Kinni, Outi Einola-Head, Dommie Yambo-Odotte, Chuchu Balkew, Collins Edomaruse, Mugarula Florence, Peter Fabricius, Connor Schratz, Pirjo Liisa, Joan Chirwa Ngoma, Juho Paavola, Simon Kaheru, Kii Runsten, Marketta Parviaine, Borges Nhamirre, Jouni Mölsä, Antti Petri Purmonen, Patrik Skön, Nii Tetey, Marjatta Peltonen, Petri Burtsov, Heikki Aittokoski, Robin Tyson, Saif Ahmed, Emma Andersson
Associates of Suomi/Africa:
Christian Sundgren, Michael Godtfredsen, Nina Dale, Marja-Liisa Kinturi, Pelk Johansson