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Bheki Makhubu, Swaziland, jailed since March 2014

Bheki Makhubu, Swaziland, jailed since March 2014

Article ID:

17646

Day 19
Country:
Swaziland
Journalist: Bheki Makhubu
Media: The Nation
Jailed since: 18 March 2014

 

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'30 Days for Freedom' campaign calls for the release of #Swaziland journalist Bheki Makhubu bit.ly/1mtVnZy #FreethePress


Facing trial today, 22 April, columnist and Editor-in-Chief of The Nation magazine, Bheki Makhubu has been kept in a maximum security prison on “contempt of court” charges. Arrested in March 2014 along with prominent human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, the pair is charged over the publication of two articles in February and March which questioned the impartiality of the Swazi judicial system concerning the arrest of a government vehicle inspector. Briefly freed after a judge found their initial arrest unlawful, a new warrant was ordered by Justice Simelane on 9 April.

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Press freedom groups, including Reporters Without Borders, have criticised the inhumane and degrading treatment of Makhubu during his detention, appearing in court in leg irons on the grounds that he represented a “security risk.” Media groups have also cast serious doubts over judicial independence and professionalism in the case. It now appears that Simelane will be a judge and a witness in the same case, as he was also mentioned in the articles for which the two defendants are being prosecuted. An application to have Judge Simelane recuse himself was rejected on 14 April.

Quoted in the Mail & Guardian during this brief spell of freedom earlier this month, Makhubu declared:

“I wrote an article I believed was of national interest, and because I like to think I understand constitutional law, I believe free speech means we can participate in matters of national importance that touch upon us as a people.”

But this is not the first time Bheki Makhubu has been in serious trouble. Last year, Makhubu was sentenced to either a hefty fine or two years in prison after being found guilty of contempt of court for criticising Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. According to Reporters Without Borders, “This harsh sentence, which violates freedom of expression, was handed down by a court acting as plaintiff and judge at the same time.” His lawyers subsequently lodged an appeal, which is yet to be heard.

Under the rule of King Mswati III since 1986, Swaziland is Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy. Even though the country’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the regime maintains strict control over the media. The country is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Of the two newspaper groups in the country, the Observer Group is controlled by the king’s family, while the independent news outlet Times of Swaziland Group is known for practising self-censorship. As a result, the Internet has increasingly become a source of information outside of state control. 

**UPDATE: As their trial resumed on April 22, activists, relatives and supporters of Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko were again blocked from entering the court’s premises. On the first day, Judge Simelane dismissed the defence’s claim that their arrest had already been ruled wrongful and unlawful by Judge Dhlamini, ruling that there was a fresh indictment and the case can proceed to trial. A group of observers dispatched by International Commission of Jurists continues to monitor and report on the trial: follow news on court proceedings here. **

Suggested Tweet:

'30 Days for Freedom' campaign calls for the release of #Swaziland journalist Bheki Makhubu bit.ly/1mtVnZy #FreethePress


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wm_WanIfra

Date

2014-04-22 10:44

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Andrew Heslop

Date

2014-04-03 20:08