Swaziland court orders Centre alumnus and magazine editor's immediate release

Posted on July 01, 2015

The Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria welcomes the Swaziland Supreme Court’s order to immediately release human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and magazine editor Bheki Makhubu. This order comes after the Court upheld an appeal brought by Mr Maseko and Mr Makhubu against their conviction on two charges of contempt of court and their two-year prison sentences.

Mr Maseko, a 2005 alumnus of the Centre for Human Rights and the 2011 laureate of the Centre’s Vera Chirwa Award for human rights activism, and Mr Makhubu, editor of the magazine The Nation, were convicted following their public criticism of Swaziland’s Chief Justice, Michael Ramodibedi. Their imprisonment was an attempt to stifle free speech and criticism of the judiciary in Swaziland, an undemocratic country where the rule of law has largely been replaced by royal rule.

During the proceedings, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions did not oppose the appeal as it was believed that the conviction was unsupportable and that Judge Mpendulo Simelane, who presided over their criminal trial in the High Court, should have recused himself. Judge Simelane has since been charged with corruption and defeating the ends of justice.

The Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) supported Mr Maseko and Mr Makhubu in their case and applauded the outcome. The SALC stated that it is pleased that the prosecution recognised their role as ‘prosecutors’ and not as ‘persecutors’. This signifies an important shift where the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Swaziland are upheld and respected.

Prof Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights, is delighted at the outcome of the appeal but lamented the long duration of their imprisonment before they were vindicated. He said: ‘While the Supreme Court’s order has to be welcomed and affirms that some remnant of the rule of law is alive, it does not detract from the fact that political interference and arbitrariness in the application of the law largely render the rule of law in Swaziland illusory.’ Mr Maseko is currently registered for a doctorate in law at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria on a topic related to the rule of law in Swaziland.

The situation in Swaziland has long been of concern to the African Union’s human rights body, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). In July 2014 the ACHPR adopted a Resolution on the Freedom of Expression in Swaziland at its 16th Extraordinary Session in Kigali, Rwanda. The Resolution called on the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly; to take the necessary measures to stop all acts of harassment and intimidation against human rights defenders and media practitioners; and to respect and guarantee their right to freedom of expression.


For more information, please contact:

Prof Frans Viljoen
Director: Centre for Human Rights
University of Pretoria
Tel: 012 420 3228
Email: [email protected]    

- Author Yolanda Booyzen, Centre for Human Rights

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