Free! Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko rejoin their nation and resume their lives
Editor of The Nation Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko have been acquitted by the Supreme Court of Swaziland, after serving 15 months in jail. On the last day of June 2015, the Swaziland Supreme Court released Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko from prison after the crown prosecution chose not to oppose his appeal against his conviction.
The two were arrested in March 2014, in connection to articles criticising the Swazi judiciary, which appeared in the independent news magazine in February 2014. In particular, the articles animadverted an abuse of authority by Swaziland Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi - specifically, the issuing of an arrest warrant for vehicle inspector Bhantshana Gwebu on contempt of court charges, after Gwebu had stopped and impounded a government vehicle used by another judge without authorisation. They were released and rearrested early in April 2014, as their arrest warrants became a cause for polittical manouvering within the Swazi court and eventually sentenced late in July 2014, having already been detained for more than three months without bail. High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane, on sentencing the pair, said the incarceration should act as a deterrent to journalists reporting from Swaziland.
"We applaud the Supreme Court's decision to release Bheki Makhubu and are relieved that he is free to rejoin his wife and family after 14 difficult months," said Sue Valentine, Africa programme coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
"Makhubu's prosecution was vindictive from the start, and we call on Swazi authorities to ensure that this brings to an end the legal battles he has endured for his critical journalism over the past four years."
The judicial harassment of critical voices in Swaziland is not isolated to the case of Maseko and Makhubu, but is rather part of a disturbing trend to silence freedom of expression in the country. For example, there are 32 laws in Swaziland that place restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information, and political parties have been banned since September 2013, when King Mswati III changed the name of Swaziland's political system to a "monarchical democracy", describing it as a "marriage between the traditional monarchy and the ballot box".