4 April 2014

Swaziland: Ambassadors Support Jailed Writers

The European Union Ambassador to Swaziland Nicole Bellomo and the US Ambassador to Swaziland Makila James both visited the High Court on Friday (4 April 2014) in solidarity with the magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko who have been jailed on remand after writing articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the Swazi judiciary.

The unprecedented show of solidarity was the latest turn of events in a saga that started on 17 March 2014 when both men were arrested and charged with contempt of court.

Makhubu and Maseko were remanded in custody by CJ Ramodibedi, the man who was on the receiving end the writers' criticism in articles published in the Nation, a monthly comment magazine in Swaziland.

The decision to jail the two men took place behind closed doors and the men's lawyers were not present.

The jailings caused an international outcry, with human rights organisations calling for the two men to be freed immediately. Amnesty International has named Makhubu and Maseko 'prisoners of conscience'.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. The King appoints the government and top judges and freedom of speech is severely restricted in his kingdom.

On Wednesday (2 April 2014) the Judicial Services Commission, which is chaired by CJ Ramodibedi and consists of people handpicked by King Mswati, issued a public warning against commenting about the case. Independent observers have interpreted this as a threat to critics of the regime that they too will be jailed.

US Ambassador James in an impromptu media conference at the High Court said the United States was concerned about their arrest because Maseko and Makhubu were expressing their opinions. 'We are here in solidarity and to give moral support,' she said.

Hundreds of supports turned up at the High Court on Friday as Maseko and Makhubu appeared in court in leg-irons for the third time in a week. The men were trying to get the court to overturn CJ Ramodibedi's jailing order.

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