19 July 2014

Swaziland: What Convicted Journalists Wrote

Photo: Times of Zambia
Court gavel.

A magazine editor and human rights lawyer in Swaziland face up to ten years in jail after being convicted of contempt of court for criticizing the judiciary and the kingdom's Chief Justice in articles published in the Nation, a tiny-circulation monthly news magazine.

The conviction of Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko has sparked outrage around the world. In his judgment, High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane said, 'the Constitution does not grant an absolute right of freedom of expression'.

Media are heavily censored in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

The court judgment delivered on Thursday (17 July 2014) contained the specific words in the articles complained of.

These are the words as published that could land two men in jail for ten years.

'The Accused persons, [Makhubu, Maseko and Independent Publishers, the publisher of the Nation] are charged as follows:-

"COUNT ONE

Accused 1, 2 and 3 are guilty of the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT

In that upon or about the month of February 2014 and at or near Mbabane area in the Hhohho Region, the said accused each or all of them acting jointly in furtherance of a common purpose, did write and publish an article entitled "Speaking my mind" about the case which was first dealt with before the Chief Justice His Lordship Justice Ramodibedi of THE KING VERSUS BHANTSHANA VINCENT GWEBU HIGH COURT CASE NO. 25/2014, a criminal matter currently pending before the High Court of Swaziland and therefore sub judice, which article's passages are quoted:-

(a) 'Like Caiaphus, Ntate Justice Ramodibedi seems to have chosen to use his higher station in life to bully those in a weaker position as a means to consolidate his power. Like Caiaphus, Ntate Justice Ramodibedi seems to be in a path to create his legacy by pushing the small man so that he can sleep easy at night well knowing that he has sent a message to all who dare cross him that they will be put in their right place. Let us not forget that Caiaphus was not only the high priest of Judea. He was the chief justice of all Jewish law and had only the immense power to pass judgment on anyone among his people who transgressed the law. Ditto Ntate Justice Ramodibedi in Swaziland.'

(b) 'When this lowly public servant from Bulunga appeared before him on Monday after a warrant for his arrest had been issued, Gwebu was denied the right to legal representation because, Ntate Justice Ramodibedi is reported to have said, the lawyer was not there when the car was impounded at the weekend.'

(c) 'Like Caiaphus, our Chief Justice "massaged" the law to suit his own agenda.'

(d) 'What is incredible about the similarities between Caiaphus and Ntate Justice Ramodibedi is that both men had willing servants to help them break the law.'

and did thereby unlawfully and intentionally violate the dignity, repute or authority of the said Court before which the matter is pending, and thereby commit the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT.

COUNT TWO

Accused 1, 2, 3 and 4 are guilty of the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT.

In that upon or about the month of March 2014 and at or near Mbabane area in the Hhohho Region, the said accused each or all of them acting jointly and in furtherance of a common purpose, did write and publish an article entitled "Where the law has no place" about the case which was first dealt with before the Chief Justice His Lordship Justice Ramodibedi of THE KING VERSUS BHANTSHANA VINCENT GWEBU HIGH COURT CASE NO. 25/2014, a criminal matter currently pending before the High Court of Swaziland and therefore sub judice, which article's passages are quoted:-

(a) 'The arrest of Bhantshana Gwebu early in the year is a demonstration of how corrupt the power system has become in this country.'

(b) 'We should be deeply concerned about such conduct displayed by the head of the judiciary in the country. Such conduct deprives the court of its moral authority; it is a demonstration of moral bankruptcy. A judiciary that is morally bankrupt cannot dispense justice without fear or favour as the oath of the office dictates.'

(c) 'Many will say that what we saw is nothing but a travesty of justice in its highest form.'

(d) 'In more ways than one, this was a repeat of the Justice Thomas Masuku kangaroo process where the Chief Justice was prosecutor, witness and judge in his own cause.'

(e) 'It would appear as some suggest, that Gwebu had to be "dealt with" for sins he committed in the past, confiscating cars belonging to the powerful, including the Chief Justice himself. It is such perceptions that make people lose faith in institutions of power, when it appears that such institutions are used to settle personal scores at the expense of justice and fairness.'

and did thereby unlawfully and intentionally violate the dignity, repute or authority of the said Court before which the matter is pending, and thereby commit the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT."

In his judgment, Judge Simelane said by writing and publishing the words, 'The Accused persons scandalized, insulted and brought to disrepute the dignity and authority of the Chief Justice.'

Ads by Google

Copyright © 2014 Swazi Media Commentary. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.

InFocus

Jailing of Swaziland Journo, Lawyer Slammed

Jailed editor Bheki Makhubu, front left.

The sentencing of a newspaper editor and a human rights lawyer to two years in prison on charges of contempt of court after a "grossly unfair trial" in Swaziland has been described ... Read more »

Support for Convicted Swaziland Journalists

Court gavel.

Global support is growing for the two journalists accused of writing articles that criticise the judiciary, who were recently convicted of contempt of court and facing up to 10 ... Read more »