Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko were acquitted by the Supreme Court on 30 June 2015. The editor and human rights lawyer had been charged with contempt of court in 2014 for writing articles criticising the Swazi judiciary.
On 19 March 2015, Thulani Maseko was placed into solitary confinement for 21 days, following a letter he wrote on the one-year anniversary of his detention.
They don’t write for The New York Times or The Daily Mail. And the Swazi government is counting on just that to keep Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko in jail for criticizing the judiciary.
The high court of Swaziland awarded damages of 550,000 lilangeni (41,000 euros) against the Times of Swaziland. The record sum is tantamount to a death sentence for the country’s only privately-owned daily.
As the 15 member states of SADC prepare to meet for the 34th Summit of Heads of State and Government in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe on August 17 and 18, 2014, the three human rights organizations drew attention to serious human rights concerns in Angola, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The harsh sentence follows Makhubu’s and Maseko’s conviction on contempt of court charges for separate news articles criticising the kingdom’s chief justice, Michael Ramodibedi, published in the independent news magazine, The Nation.
The judge in charge of the case, Mpendulo Simelane, said the sentences were intended as “a deterrent not only to the appellants to abstain from similar behaviours in the future but also to others who may have a like-minded scheme in contemplation.”
On 17 July the High Court in Mbabane, Swaziland found Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu guilty of contempt of court in relation to articles published in The Nation magazine, which criticised the conduct of Swaziland’s Chief Justice, Michael Ramodibedi.
On Friday, 30 May 2014, the Swaziland Independent Publishers and The Nation editor Bheki Makhubu won their appeal in the case in which they were charged with “scandalising the court”.
The timeline below is not just a chronology of the events surrounding Maseko and Makhubu’s case; it is also an example of what legal labyrinths can open up when someone speaks out against the Swazi government and the justice system itself.
Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu have been charged with contempt of court over two separate articles that appeared in the Nation magazine and were critical of the arrest of government vehicle inspector Bhantshana Gwebu.
Photojournalist Walter Dlamini was photographing police brutality during a protest when an “officer pointed a shotgun at Dlamini’s face and demanded why he [was taking] pictures of the officers who were at work”.
Representatives from the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Swaziland, Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House speak to IFEX about press freedom in Swaziland, in light of the recent elections.
One of Swaziland’s few independent source of news, The Nation magazine, has been found guilty of “contempt by scandalizing the court” following its publication of two articles in 2009 and 2010 that criticised Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.