FAJ Calls on Swaziland to Release Jailed Journalist

The Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) has today condemned the sentencing of the editor of the Nation magazine Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko to two years imprisonment.

“This verdict of two years imprisonment is outrageous and backward,” said Mohammed Garba, President of FAJ. “We call on the Swazi King Mswati III to release the journalist and the lawyer”.

The Swaziland High Court last Friday, 25 July 2014, sentenced Bheki Makhubu, writer and editor of the Nation monthly news magazine, and Thulani Maseko, human rights lawyer and writer to two years in prison without an option of a fine.

They are accused of contempt of court for criticizing the judiciary and the Kingdom’s Chief Justice in articles published in the Nation. They were arrested in March and detained, and their trial has been marked with irregularities and violations of their rights.

In their articles, Makhubu and Maseko had criticised the arrest and detention of government vehicle inspector Bhantshana Gwebu in January this year after he charged the driver of a Supreme Court judge with following an unauthorised route.

High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane argued that writing these articles amounted to interfering with the administration of justice, because the criminal matter was still before the court: hence the contempt of court charges brought against them.

“This two-year sentence is a blow to freedom of expression and is intended to deter journalists from doing their work,” said Gabriel Baglo, Africa Director of the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ.

“We call on journalists organisations in the region to fight this decision and the citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression.”

Media are heavily censored in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as Africa’s last absolute monarch.

According to reports, in his judgment, Judge Simelane admitted that ‘the Constitution does not grant an absolute right of freedom of expression’. The conviction and sentence are liable for appeal.

For more information, please contact FAJ Secretariat: +221 33 867 95 86/87

FAJ represents more than 50,000 journalists in 40 countries in Africa