2 April 2014

Swaziland: Editor Is a Secret Security Risk - Govt

Photo: MISA Swaziland
Jailed editor Bheki Makhubu (front left) waits for his bail hearing in the dock of courtroom A in Swaziland’s high court. At the last minute Makhubu’s hearing was shifted to court room B. It is unclear why his hearing was moved into another courtroom

The Swaziland Government says it has to put Bheki Makhubu, the magazine editor charged with contempt of court, in leg-irons because he is a 'security risk'.

But, it will not say why he is a risk because it is a 'secret'.

There has been an international outcry against the jailing on remand of Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko. The two men wrote and published articles critical of Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi in the Nation, a monthly magazine with a tiny readership that circulates in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

But, the outcry grew louder when it was disclosed that the men were chained in leg-irons every time they appeared in court. They were arrested on 17 March 2014 and after a series of court appearances are now remanded until 9 April.

Government spokesperson Sanele Mngotmetulu Nxumalo defended the treatment. 'It is one of the things that remain a secret. Security is very secretive. Therefore, if I can disclose to you when, how, why and to who we use leg irons, that could compromise our security. Security is very important to us,' she said.

Musa Hlophe, the coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations, who writes a weekly column in the Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland was one of the chief critics of the use of leg-irons.

In an article that he wrote for the newspaper, but was not published because the Times feared reprisals from the state, he wrote, 'This was the most humiliating, degrading and embarrassing treatment we, as a country, could subject a decent citizen to.

'The embarrassment did not reflect just on the individual we thought we were humiliating, for whatever reason, but it reflected how barbaric we can be as a nation. While it must be humiliating to have two prominent law abiding citizens being incarcerated as the two have been, to put them on leg irons as though they were not only dangerous, but violent common criminals is totally inexcusable and insulting in the extreme.'

He added, 'What an insult to those Swazis who cherish the ideal of the respect for human dignity? Section 18 of our Constitution has this to say about protection from inhuman or degrading treatment: (1) the dignity of every person is inviolable. (2) A person shall not be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.'

Meanwhile, more international organisations have given support to Makhubu and Maseko. The European Union delegation in Swaziland said the arrests 'might hamper freedom of expression and the media in the country'. It called on the kingdom's authorities to respect and promote the freedom of expression in line with Swaziland's legislation and international commitments and obligations.

The Right2Know Campaign called for their immediate release and charges to be dropped. It said the two men had been jailed without trial.

It added their cases were heard in a 'private court' without their lawyers present. 'So they were effectively denied a fair trial. Under such conditions, their arrest and detention without a trial is authoritarian, politically motivated and designed to threaten other journalists who write critically of the government and of the monarchy.'

The Media Institute of Southern Africa reported that Maseko was expected to bring a case against Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. It said Swazi media reported that Maseko would argue that the Chief Justice did not have the legal power to issue the warrant of arrest, alleging further that his actions were unconstitutional and irregular.

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