CIVICUS and the Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) express shock at the continued harassment and re-arrest of Swazi journalist Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko.
“The persistent harassment of a well- respected journalist and a human rights lawyer by Swaziland’s dreaded security apparatus is indeed worrying. It is part of a calculated campaign to shut down any kind of dissent in the country,” said Danny Sriskandarajah, the CIVICUS Secretary-General. “South Africa and indeed the South African Development Community (SADC) cannot turn a blind eye to this repression.”
On 9 April 2014, Bheki Makhubu, editor of The Nation magazine and Thulani Maseko, a columnist with The Nation and member of Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland, were rearrested by members of the Royal Swaziland Police following the issuance of a warrant on the same day. Makhubu and Maseko are reportedly being held at Mbabane Police Station in the capital.
Makhubu and Maseko were originally arrested on March 17 and 18, 2014 respectively on charges of “scandalising the judiciary” and “contempt of court” in relation to two articles published in The Nation in February and March which questioned the independence of the judiciary. The two activists were reportedly denied access to their lawyers and remanded into custody without the possibility for bail. On April 6, after 20 days in detention at Sidwashini Correctional facility, a High Court judge overturned their arrest.
Both activists have routinely been subjected to judicial harassment for undertaking their legitimate work. In April 2013, Makhubu was sentenced to two years in prison in connection to articles published in The Nation criticising the judicial system. He was released pending appeal.
In June 2009, Maseko was arrested and charged under Swaziland’s draconian Sedition and Subversive Activities Act in an apparent reprisal for his human rights activities.
The continued harassment of Makhubu and Maseko is symptomatic of the government’s growing hostility towards dissenters in the country. Pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders and protestors are routinely targeted under vague and ill-defined provisions of the Suppression of Terrorism Act (2008) and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act (1938). In September 2013, prominent South African activists Jay Naidoo and Vincent Ncongwane, former secretary general of the Swaziland United Democratic Front, were detained in an apparent attempt to prevent them from taking part in a panel discussion on labour rights violations in Swaziland.
“Swaziland remains the only country in Africa ruled by an absolute monarchy,” said Corlett Letlojane, Executive Director at HURISA. “With a highly politicised judiciary and consequent lack of domestic recourse to address human rights abuses, the international community must look to proactively engage with the Swazi government to ensure that Human Rights Defenders are afforded adequate protections,” said Letlojane.
In May 2012 the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights urged the government of Swaziland to fully adhere to its regional and international human rights obligations, particularly the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly. Moreover, as a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Swaziland must observe SADC’s standards governing human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
CIVICUS and the Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) urge the South African government and the Southern African Development Community to diplomatically engage the Swazi government on the on-going pervasive harassment of human rights defenders and dissenters. A first step would be the dropping of charges and unconditional release of Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko.