Mbabane, March 19, 2014 – Southern African human rights groups have ganged up to condemn the arrest and detention of two human rights defenders in Swaziland on contempt of court charges as an entrenchment of hostility towards dissenters.
Authorities in the Kingdom of Swaziland on Monday arrested and detained Thulani Rudolf Maseko, a leading human rights lawyer and Bheki Makhubu, a journalist, on charges of committing contempt of court.
Maseko, a lawyer and columnist for ‘The Nation’ magazine was arrested on the orders of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi who issued a warrant for his apprehension for allegedly writing an article published in the magazine questioning the circumstances and rationale surrounding the arrest of Chief Government Vehicle Inspector, Bhantshana Gwebu. Gwebu had been arrested and charged with contempt of court. Makhubu, The Nation Magazine Editor was also arrested on Tuesday for allegedly authoring different articles in the magazine about the Southern African country’s judiciary questioning the logic behind Gwebu’s arrest. Both Maseko and Makhubu who appeared in court on Tuesday and were remanded in custody to next week.
The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN), a coalition of influential human rights and pro-democracy organisation operating in SADC and whose focal point is Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the actions of Swaziland authorities are unwelcome in a civilised society such as what the Kingdom aspires to be.
SAHRDN, which said it has been monitoring developments in the Kingdom of Swaziland and is alarmed by the serious deterioration of the human rights situation said the arrest of Maseko and Makhubu seriously violates and restrains the scope of freedom of expression and is proof that the Swazi government has no genuine commitment to constitutional democracy.
“By targeting human rights defenders, the Swazi government is entrenching its hostility towards dissenters and such actions are unwelcome in a civilised society such as what the Kingdom of Swaziland aspires to be. The actions of the Swazi authorities are calculated to intimidate and instill fear among journalists, lawyers and other well-meaning citizens so that they are not able to freely express themselves even though this right is enshrined in section 24 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland.
SAHRDN, which demanded the immediate release of Maseko and Makhubu urged the Swazi government to play its fundamental role in the protection of human rights of lawyers and journalists as guaranteed in regional instruments particularly Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights to which Swaziland is a state party.
Apart from SAHRDN, the Media Institute of Southern Africa also weighed in denouncing the arrest of the duo and called for the repeal of laws criminalising freedom of expression in the southern African region.