Apr. 13, 2014 | Press Releases

Swaziland: HRF Calls on Absolute Monarch to Release Human Rights Lawyer and Investigative Journalist

NEW YORK (April 14)—The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) calls on the Swaziland monarchy to release human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makubu, imprisoned on charges of “contempt of court” after questioning the independence of the country’s judicial system. The two prisoners of conscience were arraigned in the Chief Justice’s private chambers without legal representation on March 18th, and released on April 6th, only to be re-arrested Wednesday, April 9th. They await today’s April 14th court date in a maximum security prison.

“As with all dictatorships, Africa’s last absolute monarchy uses a fully subservient judiciary not to serve justice but to imprison critics,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “This is typical behavior for an autocracy whose ruler routinely tramples human rights to preserve his ill-gotten wealth and power.”

Swaziland has been ruled by King Mswati III since 1986. He inherited the throne from his father, King Sobhuza, who banned political parties, scrapped the post-colonial constitution, and reigned for 60 years with an iron fist. Mswati outdid his father by imposing a new constitution in 2006 that allows him to handpick the prime minister, governing cabinet, and members of the judiciary.

Thulani Maseko, a senior member of Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland, and Bheki Makubu, editor-in-chief of the country’s only independent news outlet (The Nation), were arrested after they authored articles criticizing Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi for abuse of power. Ramodibedi had ordered the arrest of Swaziland's motor vehicle inspector when a vehicle used by another high court judge was impounded for a minor traffic violation.

Publishing criticism of Mswati’s ruling party is banned in Swaziland, where the king uses draconian laws like the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act to imprison his opponents. Since 2012, citizens have been forbidden to sue the king in civil courts. Further, judges who have issued rulings critical of the king have been suspended for insubordination.

“The imprisonment of Makubu and Maseko flagrantly violates Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as Articles 6, 7, and 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, both signed by Swaziland,” said HRF international legal director Javier El-Hage. “King Mswati and Chief Justice Ramodebedi need to start living up to their human rights obligations, and a good first step is to release Maseko and Makubu. Since Mswati and his friends control all the courts, the power to make this decision is in their hands,” said El-Hage.

King Mswati, described by the New York Times as being worth “billions of dollars,” owns 13 palaces. Every year, he hosts a stadium-sized festival where he chooses a new bride from tens of thousands of corralled, under-age, half-naked virgins. He now "owns" 15 wives. Eighty percent of Swazis subsist on less than $2 per day. Even the government admits that annual corruption exceeds social spending. More than 25% of the adult population is HIV-positive.

Thulani Maseko is a confirmed speaker at the 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum, to take place in Norway from May 12-14.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Contact:

Jamie Hancock, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246-8486, jamie@thehrf.org

King of Swaziland, Head of State and Chief of Arm forces, Mswati III, Royal Palace, Mbabane, Swaziland. Email: hello@kingofswaziland.com

Prime Minister, Mr. Barnabas Sibusiso DLAMINI, Cabinet Offices, Hospital Hill P.O. Box 395, Mbabane, SWAZILAND. Fax: +268 2404 3943

Secretary to Cabinet and Head of the Public Service, Mr. Mbuso C. Dlamini, Fax: +24043943, Email: dlaminimb@gov.sz

Minister of Justice, Senator Mr. Sibusiso SHONGWE, Ministry of Justice Building, 5th Floor, Mhlambanyatsi/Usuthu Link Road, P.O. 924, Mbabane, Swaziland. Fax: +268 404 5626

Acting Principal Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Siboniso Masilela, Tel: +268 404 5159, Email: masilelasib@gov.sz

Attorney General, Mr. Majahenkhaba DLAMINI, P.O. Box 578, Mbabane, Swaziland. Fax: +268 4044796, Email: matsebulasa@gov.sz

H.E. Mr. Mahlaba Almon MAMBA, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Swaziland to the Office of the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin William-Barbey 51, 1292 Chambésy, Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 758 94 24, Email: swazimission-geneva@dslnets.ch

H.E. J.M. Nhleko, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Head of the Mission; Embassy of the Kingdom of Swaziland, Avenue Winston Churchill 188, 1180 Bruxelles, Belgium; Email: brussels@swaziembassy.be 

H.E. Abednigo Mandla Ntshangase, Ambassador of Swaziland to the United States; 1712 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009, United States; Email: info@swazilandembassyus.com, Tel: (202) 234-5002

H.E. Zwelethu Mnisi, Ambassador of Swaziland to the United Nations; 408 East 50th St., New York, NY 10022, United States. Tel: (212) 371-8910, Email: swaziland@un.int

H.E. Ambassador Kari M. Bjørnsgaard, The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pretoria; Ozmik House, 165 Lynnwood Road,  Brooklyn. Tel: +27 12 364 3700, Email: emb.pretoria@mfa.no