Jailed Journalists Case Goes to UN

Leading international lawyers are asking a United Nations working group to rule whether the jailing of a Swaziland magazine editor and human rights lawyer for publishing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary are lawful.

They have filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) in Geneva regarding the cases of Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine and Thulani Maseko, a lawyer and writer.

The American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, the global law firm Hogan Lovells and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) jointly produced a petition calling for the UNWGAD to issue an opinion regarding the lawfulness of the continued incarceration of the two men.

They allege a range of human rights violations by Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch..

Wilder Tayler, ICJ’s Secretary General, said, ‘The consequences of this arbitrary action against Thulani Maseko have not only violated his rights and exacted a heavy personal toll, but have also highlighted the rule of law deficit in Swaziland. Thulani Maseko has been denied his right to express an opinion on public affairs and the administration of justice, guaranteed under international law and affirmed in the UN Basic principles on the Role of lawyers.’

Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu were charged with two counts of contempt of court emanating from articles published in the Nation in February and March 2014, in which they questioned circumstances surrounding the arrest of a government vehicle inspector.

They were sentenced to two years of imprisonment, without the alternative option of a fine at the end of a trial largely condemned by leading international rights groups as unfair and not complying with international standards on the right to a fair trial.

In a statement the ICJ said, ‘Some of the fair trial guarantees that have been breached, according to the legal petition filed with the UNGWAD, include the right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal right to a public hearing right to a legal counsel right to the presumption of innocence right to bail and right to protection of the law.’

Marc Gottridge, partner at Hogan Lovells, said,’The use of contempt of court proceedings to suppress the right to freedom of expression is a violation of international human rights law. The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Swazi constitution and international law, including treaties to which Swaziland is a party.

‘The general failings of the Swazi judiciary with respect to independence and impartiality makes it reasonable to conclude that there cannot be an effective domestic remedy for Thulani Maseko.’

Source : Swazi Media Commentary