The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Commissioner Reine-Alapini Gansou are concerned about reports of restrictions to freedom of expression, judicial harassment, persecution, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention in the Kingdom of Swaziland.
In particular, they are concerned that Mr. Thulani Rudolf Maseko, a prominent human rights lawyer and defender who is also a senior member of the Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland, was arrested on 17 March 2014. It would be recalled that Mr. Maseko was also arrested on 3 June 2009 and on 4 June 2009 charged for uttering words with a subversive intention, contrary to a section of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act (Act No 46 of 1938 as amended). Mr. Bheki Makhubu, Editor-in-Chief of the Nation Magazine on the other hand, was arrested on 18 March 2014.
Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu, are being charged with two counts for the offence of contempt of court alleging that they violated and undermined the dignity, repute and authority of the High Court of Swaziland by publishing malicious and contemptuous statements in the monthly Nation Magazine, about the case of The King v Bhantsana Vincent Gwebu.
Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu are still in custody and were set to appear in court on 25 March 2014 for their bail hearing. On 25 March 2014, through an order made by Justice Mpendulo Simelane after a Court Session in Mbabane, they were remanded in custody for 7 more days until 1 April 2014. The accused persons are concerned that their continued prolonged detention amounts to pre-trial punishment.
The Special Rapporteurs express their concern on reports of the circumstances surrounding the arrest and charges against Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu. In this regard, they would like to remind the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland of its international obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Kigali Declaration, the Grand Bay Declaration and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (the Declaration). In particular, they draw the King of the Kingdom of Swaziland’s attention to Principles I (1) and II of the Declaration which provides that “no one shall be subject to arbitrary interference with his or her freedom of expression” and that “any restrictions on freedom of expression shall be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society”.
The Special Rapporteurs further draw the King’s attention to Principle XI (1) of the Declaration which provides that “…intimidation of and threats to media practitioners and others exercising their right to freedom of expression…undermines independent journalism, freedom of expression and the free flow of information to the public;” and Principle XI (2) which puts an obligation on State Parties “to take effective measures to prevent such attacks and, when they do occur, to investigate them, to punish perpetrators and to ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.”
The Special Rapporteurs call on the King to ensure that human rights defenders are able to conduct their activities in a safe and conducive environment.
The Special Rapporteurs urge the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland, to order the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu, and withdraw all charges against them. The Special Rapporteurs further urge the Swazi authorities to take the necessary measures to stop all acts of judicial harassment and intimation carried out against human rights defenders working in Swaziland and to respect and guarantee their right to freedom of opinion and expression.
The Special Rapporteur would also like to encourage the Swazi authorities to continue their efforts towards ensuring the physical integrity and the safety of human rights defenders in Swaziland.
Done in Banjul, 27 March 2014