Thursday, July 31, 2014

MASEKO CALLS ON U.S. TO SANCTION KING

Thulani Maseko, the human rights lawyer and journalist jailed for two years in Swaziland because he wrote a magazine article critical of the Swazi judiciary, has written from his jail cell at Sidvwashini Prison to US President Barack Obama, asking for the United States to impose sanctions against King Mswati III.

In the letter that was written while Maseko was awaiting trial, the lawyer quoted Obama himself who once said, ‘I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.’

Maseko wrote to President Obama, ‘We are happy that the American government, under your administration, has noted that these things are not available to the vast majority of the people of Swaziland. They are not available because we are living under a dictatorship of a supreme monarchy that abuses the people’s customary and traditional practices to stay in power. Yet we know that tradition and customary practices should not impede on basic human rights and fundamental freedoms and civil liberties. As far as we in the democratic progressive movement understand, human rights are God-given; they are inalienable, inherent, indivisible and inviolable.

‘In the Kingdom of Swaziland, we live under an oppressive regime where it is said “rights and freedoms which we accept must not conflict with our traditions as the Swazi nation.” Such a notion is obviously inconsistent with the rule of law, democracy and good governance.’

He added, ‘Mr. President, in the context of Swaziland, dissenting and opposing voices are silenced, harassed and thrown into jail. The system of government is based on one man [King Mswati III] with all political authority, which is sanctioned by the constitution; this is the supreme law of the land. Section 79 of the 2005 Constitution prohibits the lawful existence and recognition of political parties, which effectively undermines democracy and democratic governance.’

He added, ‘President Obama, I believe that it is now generally accepted that no country can be a democracy when political parties are banned, and where basic human rights and fundamental freedoms are unreasonably restricted and contained. Such is the case in Swaziland.’

Maseko called on President Obama and the American people and partners around the globe to put pressure on King Mswati (who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch) to help put pressure on the King to agree on constitutional talks.

He also asked President Obama to influence countries of the European Union and the United Nations ‘to take a firm stand on Swaziland’. 

Maseko wrote, ‘Our country exports huge amounts of sugar and beef to the countries of Europe; a threat to such a market will send shivers to the king, forcing him to reconsider his hardline positions. 

‘What is more, our King is very fond of traveling the world. We reckon it is about time for targeted sanctions against him and a select few members of his inner circle to be considered.’

He added, ‘I am afraid that if democratic and progressive governments do not take a timely stand against the Swaziland monarchy, then we have the danger of a violent confrontation, due to the intransigence of His Majesty King Mswati III and his courts.’

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, which circulated the letter on the Internet said it was ‘a testament to not only his unwavering courage in the face of unconscionable repression, but to the spirit of all of Swaziland’s people who yearn for democracy and the rule of law.’

Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights, said, ‘Freedom of expression is a basic human right that must be protected. By violating Thulani’s rights as a citizen, authorities in Swaziland have infringed on the rights of everyone, setting a horrible precedent in an already dire situation.

See also
JOURNALISTS JAILED TO DETER OTHERS
US BACKS CONVICTED SWAZI JOURNALISTS
JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM
SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS
WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/07/convicted-journalists-what-they-wrote.html

Sunday, July 27, 2014

COURT SILENCES SWAZI JOURNALISTS

A threat by a Swaziland High Court judge to jail journalists that criticise decisions made by the law courts has hit home.

Chair of the Swaziland Editors’ Forum Mbongeni Mbingo declined to comment on the statement by Judge Mpendulo Simelane for fear of committing a contempt of court.

Mbingo had been asked by local media to comment on the jailing for two years of Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer. The pair had written articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the Swaziland judiciary.

Passing sentence Judge Simelane said that publishing articles in the Nation critical of the judiciary was ‘a defiance campaign against the Courts and the administration of justice. The Courts have an obligation to discourage such conduct in the interest of the stability of our country.’

He added, ‘No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did.  Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively.  The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons.’

He added, ‘Swaziland is a sovereign state.  Her laws and constitutional structures must be respected.  It is the fundamental responsibility of the Courts in this country to ensure that this is achieved through appropriately stiff sentences as a deterrent.’

Mbingo, who is chief editor of the Swazi Observer newspaper group, which is in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was reported by a rival newspaper, the Swazi News, saying, ‘he couldn’t comment on the judgment because doing so would probably constitute contempt of court but insisted that he was at pains, following yesterday’s events’.

The Swazi News quoted Mbingo saying the two-year sentences were ‘alarming’. 

Mbingo said, ‘Bheki Makhubu is a member of the Editors’ Forum, he is a senior editor and he is highly regarded in the profession. Therefore, today has been a very sad day for all of us in the profession.

‘The sentence is alarming to us in the industry. I have been following the case as a journalist, as editor and a colleague to Bheki, but I never saw this coming. I didn’t think the sentence could be this drastic.’

He added, ‘I think we will obviously have to look at it and study it as media personnel to understand where the judge is coming from and to understand where the infringement was in order to ensure that we don’t find ourselves in the same situation.  

‘More than anything it’s important for us to understand what we stand for as a profession; it’s important to understand our role in society. We need to perform our role in society as respectfully as we can and also as unafraid as possible.’


Meanwhile, the Lawyers for Human Rights in Swaziland (LHRS) expressed ‘shock and disbelief’ at the jailing of the two journalists.

Secretary of the LHRS Sipho Gumedze said, ‘The tone that was used by the court was very unfortunate. Somewhere within the judgment, the court said it wanted to send a clear message to all journalists in Swaziland. As an association, we have serious misgivings about that. 

‘The use of that tone was unwarranted. 

‘The court was supposed to confine itself to the matter at hand and not to be political and personal because the court’s fundamental duty is to serve justice.’

Chairman of the LHRSMaxwell Nkambule said Judge Simelane’s sentence had dashed hopes on the independence of the judiciary and the role of courts to uphold the Constitution.

‘True we saw it coming but to think the court would unashamedly disrespect the basics on the protection of rights. Such is disgusting to say the least. The court is essentially saying there is no freedom of expression and free press,’ he said. 

Vincent Ncongwane, Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), said, ‘The arrest, conviction and sentence of Maseko and Makhubu is very unfortunate and has no space in the modern democratic society.

‘The federation was seriously shocked at the tone the court used when delivering the judgment, it was scaring to say the least.’

Outside of Swaziland, condemnation of the jail sentences was swift from international organisations including the US State Department, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists,  the South Africa National Editors Forum, and  Freedom House.

See also

JOURNALISTS JAILED TO DETER OTHERS
US BACKS CONVICTED SWAZI JOURNALISTS
JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM
SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS
WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE
COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER
EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/07/editor-and-lawyer-face-10-years-jail.html

Saturday, July 26, 2014

JOURNALISTS JAILED ‘TO DETER OTHERS’

Swaziland High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane sentenced an editor and a writer to two years in jail to deter other journalists from criticizing the state.

 
He made this clear in remarks from the court on Friday (25 July 2014) when he sentenced Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer, to two years in prison without an option of a fine.

The pair had written articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the Swaziland judiciary.
Swaziland is not a democracy and is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Judge Simelane said, ‘I find that the interests of society far outweigh the personal circumstances of the Accused.’

He added that publishing articles in the Nation critical of the judiciary was ‘a defiance campaign against the Courts and the administration of justice. The Courts have an obligation to discourage such conduct in the interest of the stability of our country.’

In a clear warning to all journalists and other critics in Swaziland, Judge Simelane said, ‘No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did.  Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively.  The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons.’

He added, ‘Swaziland is a sovereign state.  Her laws and constitutional structures must be respected.  It is the fundamental responsibility of the Courts in this country to ensure that this is achieved through appropriately stiff sentences as a deterrent.’

The prison sentence has been criticized across the world. The US State Department said the harsh sentence appeared to be in conflict with Swaziland’s human rights obligations. 

Amnesty International called it ‘a deplorable attack on freedom of expression in the country’. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Makhubu’s ‘only crime was to express a point of view and to publish criticism of alleged abuse of resources by certain members of the Swazi judiciary’. 


The South Africa National Editors Forum (Sanef) said, ‘This is a massive blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland and will have a chilling impact on the work of journalists in that country.’ 

See also

US BACKS CONVICTED SWAZI JOURNALISTS
JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM
SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS
WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE
COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER
EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’

Friday, July 25, 2014

JOURNALISTS CRITICAL OF REGIME JAILED




Magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were sentenced to two years in jail on Friday (25 January 2014) after they wrote articles for the Nation magazine critical of the Swazi judiciary.

They were not given an option of a fine.

The sentence was immediately condemned by Freedom House, the global human rights organisation as ‘shameful’ and a ‘brazen contempt for the free press’.

There had been protests across the world after the pair were convicted by the Swazi High Court of contempt of court a week earlier.

When they appeared for sentencing High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelenae said the sentence should serve as a deterrent for others.

Judge Simelane singled out Maseko because during the trial he had read out a statement in his defence that criticised the lack of democracy in Swaziland.

Judge Simelane said this amounted to a call for regime change in Swaziland. Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.




See also

US BACKS CONVICTED SWAZI JOURNALISTS

JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM

SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS

WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE

COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER

EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’

FACEBOOK ‘BYPASSES CENSORED MEDIA’

Young people in Swaziland are turning to social media sites such as Facebook because it allows them to enjoy ‘the fundamental rights to freedom of expression’ that is denied to them elsewhere in the kingdom, a research report has found.
They also bypass mainstream media such as television, radio and newspapers in favour of social media, the report jointly published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) said.
In Swaziland media are heavy censored, with nearly all broadcast media under direct state control and one of only two daily newspaper groups is in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The report called Youth Usage of Social media in Swaziland concluded, ‘The young people have welcomed the emergence of the social media because, among others, it affords them an opportunity not only to inter-act but also enjoy the fundamental right to freedom of expression provided in Section 24 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland adopted in 2005.
Much to the delight of the young social media users, the social media has changed the face of the media landscape by making information sharing ‘easier, faster and quicker.
They can now easily and freely bypass the severely censored mainstream media to access, produce, distribute and exchange information and ideas.
More importantly, the social media has afforded the young people an opportunity to speak in their own voices, not mediated by the mainstream media.
It added, ‘They can use this empowering force as a source of information relevant to their social lives. It has become their reliable source of educational, social, political, economic and cultural information.
The research surveyed 100 people aged between 10 and 24 years old in all four regions of Swaziland. It found the most popular social media sites were Facebook, Whatsapp and Mxit.
The report also said many young people were concerned about ‘immorality’, including ‘the posting of pornographic materials, vulgar language, seditious information and character assassination.
See also
SOCIAL MEDIA FIRST WITH THE NEWS
SOCIAL MEDIA SITES PROMOTE FREEDOM

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

US BACKS CONVICTED SWAZI JOURNALISTS



The US State Department has joined the growing chorus of outrage at the High Court conviction of an editor and a human rights lawyer in Swaziland for publishing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary.

In a statement the State Department said, ‘The United States is deeply concerned by the convictions of human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and magazine editor Bheki Makhubu for contempt of court in the Kingdom of Swaziland.’

Makhubu and Maseko will be sentenced on a date still to be announced.

The State department said, ‘Their convictions for contempt of court for publishing an article critical of the High Court of Swaziland and their ongoing prolonged detention appear to undermine respect for Swaziland’s human rights obligations, particularly the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Swaziland’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States strongly supports the universal fundamental freedom of expression and is deeply concerned by the actions of the Swazi Government.’

Last month (June 2014) the United States withdrew preferential trading status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) from Swaziland because the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was not ‘making continual progress’ in enacting civil, political and workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders described the conviction of Makhubu and Maseko after articles appeared in the Nation magazine, a monthly comment magazine with a print run of only 3,000 copies, as a ‘shockingly unfair decision in Africa’s last monarchy by a judicial system that claims to be independent but is not’.

Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk, said, ‘This conviction is completely absurd. Makhubu and Maseko have been convicted of criticizing irregularities in the judicial system by a man who is plaintiff and judge at the same time.

‘The way these proceedings have been conducted is proof of the accuracy of the articles for which they have been convicted. This is clearly a political verdict designed to gag Swaziland’s only independent publication. It will also send a chilling message to all other Swazi journalists.’

In the UK, Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) Campaigns Manager Mark Beacon said, ‘This was a highly politicised trial and yet another example of how the Swazi regime uses the judicial system to crush anyone who dares to criticise them. ACTSA joins with voices in Swaziland calling on the government to release Thulani Makeko, Bheki Makhubu and all human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally.’

In the Swazi High Court, Justice Mpendulo Simelani said that despite the Constitution of Swaziland the right to freedom of expression was not absolute but limited.

Reacting to the verdict, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) said, ‘The SAHRDN restates the well-founded and recognised position that the freedom of expression, and in particular freedom of the media and press, is critical to maintaining an open and democratic society. 

‘The SAHRDN is of the considered view that in convicting the two for allegedly authoring articles critical of actions of the judiciary, by narrowly reading and interpreting the right to freedom of expression in the Swazi Constitution, Justice Mpendulo Simelane has exhibited the stark intolerance of the judiciary to criticism and impacted negatively on the perception of the ability of judicial officers to protect all citizens equally and without fear or favour. 

‘These developments in Swaziland have exposed the judiciary and made a mockery to the state of democracy in Swaziland, SADC [Southern Africa Development Community] and indeed Africa as a whole. As one of the arms of government, the Swazi judiciary is expected to protect the fundamental rights of citizens and not contribute to their violation through court decisions.’

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in Geneva, in a statement said it was concerned by Messrs. Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko’s conviction, as it only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities, and calls upon the Swazi authorities to release Messrs. Maseko and Makhubu immediately and unconditionally, and to put an end to the continued judicial harassment against them.’

In Swaziland itself, the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo said of the conviction, ‘It spells doom for the future of journalism and practicing journalists in the country," he said. "It further stifles media development because it instils fear in journalists and citizens who want to express their views.’

In a statement Hlatshwayo said, ‘MISA-Swaziland appeals to the Swazi authorities to uphold and respect section 24 of the Constitution, which protects free speech and media freedom. They must know that a free and independent media is the catalyst for the social economic development of any country. Because if people are not allowed to express their views on issues affecting their daily lives, there is no way the decision makers can make informed and relevant policies. 

‘MISA-Swaziland reaffirms its position that dissenting views are healthy and are not to be confused with disloyalty. MISA-Swaziland continues to stand by prisoners of conscience Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko.’

Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in Cape Town, said, ‘[The] ruling is an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression.’

Freedom House, in Washington, called the conviction a ‘show trial’. Jenai Cox, program manager for Africa programs at Freedom House, said, ‘The judiciary has become an instrument of repression, as King Mswati attempts secure his grip on power.’ 

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a statement said, ‘The Court’s ruling and events that transpired before it fall short of Swaziland’s international obligations to respect the rights to freedom of expression and fair trial.’

It added, ‘The conviction of Thulani and Bheki shows that the law as implemented in Swaziland does not adequately protect the right to freedom of expression and that it unduly shields the courts from public scrutiny.’

Amnesty International, which declared the pair ‘prisoners of conscience’ after they were arrested in March 2014, said the verdict was, ‘a violation of international human rights standards as well as the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland’. It said in a statement the pair were exercising ‘freedom of expression’.

It called for the immediate release of the men and is urging supporters to write to Swaziland’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Sibusiso Shongwe to protest, ‘the arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and impartial proceedings’ surrounding the trial.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, based in Washington, said that during the trial, ‘the presiding judge disallowed much of the defense testimony and reserved judgment on sentencing “indefinitely,” meaning the two will remain behind bars for the foreseeable future and raising further questions about the independence and fairness of Swaziland’s judicial system’.

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center, said in a statement, ‘This arbitrary decision makes a mockery of justice and deals a severe blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland. King Mswati III must act swiftly to reaffirm the rule of law in his country and to ensure that his citizens’ fundamental human rights are protected.’

See also

JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM

SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS

WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE

COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER

EDITOR AND LAWYER ‘FACE 10 YEARS JAIL’