The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights have released a statement today strongly condemning a decision by a the Supreme Court of Swaziland. Charges against human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu will not be dismissed, the court decided. Just like the case of many Gambian journalists who are prosecuted on “senseless” charges like a story with a headline “ruling party supporters cross carpet to the opposition,” earlier this year, a Swazi court convicted the duo for contempt of the court in what was seen as a major blow to journalism and human rights in Swaziland.
Below is the statement from the RFK Center:
“We strongly and collectively condemn the decision issued this morning by the Supreme Court of Swaziland to reject the dismissal of charges against human rights attorney Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu. Today’s decision was announced without comment or explanation from the presiding judges, in violation of widely recognized international legal standards. The conviction and continued detention of Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu violates the constitution of Swaziland, as well as regional and international legal commitments that the country has signed and ratified.
Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu have been imprisoned for nearly 300 days. They were arrested in March of this year, following the publication of articles in which they criticized the arrest of a government vehicle inspector who, in the performance of his official duties, had impounded a judge’s car due to suspected improper use. Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu’s arrests were immediately challenged in court. On April 6, Judge Mumcy Dlamini dropped the charges against them, saying the arrests were “unconstitutional, unlawful and irregular.” Three days later, Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi ordered the two men re-arrested, after which a highly irregular trial ensued, ultimately resulting in their conviction in July. Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu were given severe and disproportionate sentences of two years in prison and a significant fine.
Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu have been declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. In addition, a wide range of international human rights organizations, including the American Bar Association, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation for Human Rights, Freedom House, the American University Washington College of Law Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, have condemned their conviction and unlawful detention. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, several United Nations Special Rapporteurs, and a growing list of high profile figures have spoken out on their behalf.
Today, the Supreme Court of Swaziland had the opportunity to correct a grave miscarriage of justice. Instead, it issued yet another flawed decision – in a series of already irregular and suspect decisions in this case – grounded neither in the fair and impartial application of the law or in the administration of due process.
Today, there is no justice in Swaziland.
In light of these developments, the ongoing miscarriage of justice against human rights defenders, and based on the findings of our recent delegation visit to Swaziland, we call for the:
Immediate and unconditional release of Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu;
Prompt administration of a fair, impartial and timely appeal;
End of the ongoing harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders;
Support, both public and private, for free expression and an independent media in Swaziland.
For more information on this case and international advocacy efforts, please visit www.swazijustice.org.”