18 September 2012

Swaziland: Fury At Amos Mbedzi Sentence

Photo: Darron Raw
King Mswati III, middle, with senior princes and warriors whilst at the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance. Amos Mbedzi's crimes allegedly occurred in the context of an attempt to place explosives under a bridge near important Swazi government and royal buildings - part of an ostensible plan by an opposition group to overthrow the current absolute monachy.

Amos Mbedzi was spared the death penalty by Swaziland High Court Judge Bheki Maphalala because he had not intended to kill his two companions with a bomb.

Mbedzi, aged 48, was instead sentenced to a total of 85 years in jail on two counts of murder, unlawful possession of explosives, sedition, and illegal entry into Swaziland. The sentences will run concurrently and he will serve 25 years of this time, backdated to the time of his arrest on 20 September 2008.

Maphalala in his judgement said the Swazi constitution allowed for the death penalty in cases of murder but the court had discretion on whether to impose it.

He said, 'Taking into account all the circumstances of this case, I am persuaded that this is not a proper case in which I should impose a death penalty. In particular the evidence proves that the direct intention of the accused was not to kill the deceased but to bomb the bridge.'

In sentencing he refused to accept Mbedzi's mitigation that he is married with three minor children to support and that his children stand to suffer for any punishment imposed by the court.

Instead, he accepted the prosecution's case that the crimes were very serious. He said, 'Their seriousness outweighs the personal circumstances of the accused'.

Mbedzi was described by the AFP news agency as a part of the Umbane People's Liberation Army, 'a secret militant group linked to the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), which sought to undermine elections that year [2008] until Swaziland allowed a multi-party vote'.

He had been convicted of attempting to bomb a bridge near the Lozitha royal residence in September 2008. King Mswati III had been expected to use the bridge later in the day. Maphalala said Mbedzi, a South African, 'was engaged in violent revolution to overthrow the State'.

The sentence has caused outrage among pro-democracy groups, who see Mbedzi as a victim of King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

The People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) called Mbedzi's sentence, 'an open expression and declaration by the royal regime of its unwillingness to accommodate diverging views on the country's political direction and future'.

The Communist Party of Swaziland called the attempt to blow up the bridge, 'a brave and principled act of struggle against the illegal Mswati regime'

The Swaziland Solidarity Network said of the sentence, 'This is a clear declaration of war to the forces of democracy in Swaziland. When people are left with no option to protect their human rights, they are bound to explore all possible means to realise them.'

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