The Swaziland authorities should immediately release Mr. Thulani Maseko and Mr. Bheki Makhubu, the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network said today. The human rights lawyer and journalist were arrested on Monday 17th March 2014, reportedly in response to articles published in a national magazine.
Mr. Maseko is a prominent human rights lawyer working at the national and regional levels, a senior member of Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland and the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, which is part of the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network. Mr. Makhubu is the Editor-in-Chief of the Nation. The two men were arrested under the same warrant, issued by Chief Justice Ramodibedi, on charges of “scandalizing the judiciary” and contempt of court.
Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu’s lawyer was not permitted to represent the pair when they were jointly charged on 18th March 2014. They have been remanded pending a bail hearing on 24th March 2014. The Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network calls on the Swaziland authorities to ensure that international and regional human rights standards are respected and to allow the two men immediate access to their lawyer.
The charges are apparently in relation to articles published in the Nation Magazine questioning the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Chief Government Vehicle Inspector, Bhantshana Gwebu. Mr. Gwebu had been arrested and charged with contempt of court after he arrested the driver of a High Court judge.
As an absolute monarchy, the King of Swaziland has the discretionary power to suspend constitutional rights such as freedom of expression and in practice these rights are frequently curtailed. Mr. Maseko has previously been charged with sedition for public statements made.
“Human rights defenders must be able to speak out on issues of public interest,” said Mr Hassan Shire, Chairperson of the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network. “We call on the Swaziland authorities to drop the charges against Mr Maseko and Mr Makhubu and allow them to continue with their important work.”