18 March 2014

Swaziland: Editor Charged With Criticising Judge

A human rights lawyer and the editor of Swaziland's only political comment magazine have been charged with contempt of court.

Lawyer Thulani Maseko and Nation editor Bheki Makhubu were alleged to have written separate articles in the magazine criticising the circumstances surrounding the case of Chief Government Vehicle Inspector, Bhantshana Gwebu. Gwebu had been arrested and charged with contempt of court after he arrested a driver of High Court Judge Esther Ota. Gwebu spent nine days at the Sidwashini Correctional facility before he was released on E15,000 (US$1,500) bail.

The arrests highlight the difficulty media have in commenting on current events in Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

Makhubu was also convicted in April 2013, along with the Nation magazine publishers, Swaziland Independent Publishers, of 'scandalising the court' after two articles criticising the judiciary were published in 2009 and 2010. Makhubu and the publisher were fined a total of E400,000 (US$40,000) by the Swaziland High Court, of which half had to be paid within three days or Makhubu would immediately be sent to jail for two years. Both Makhubu and the publisher have appealed the conviction.

The Sunday Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, ran an apology for its own coverage of the Gwebu case, but its editor was not arrested.

The apology said, '... it is not the intention of the Swazi Observer and its newspapers to disregard the independence of the judiciary, but to be seen to assisting it to uphold the rule of law in the country'.

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