Swaziland: arrest of judges raises serious concerns

The ICJ is concerned at the recent arrest of Swaziland High Court Judges Jacobus Annandale and Mpendulo Simelane, the High Court Registrar Fikile Nhlabatsi and the Minister of Justice Sibusiso Shongwe.

The four detainees appeared today before High Court Justice Qinisile Mabuza (photo).

Justice Minister Sibusiso Shongwe was denied bail and remains detained, while the other two High Court Judges and the registrar were released on bail.

The judges, registrar and Minister of Justice are all facing various charges related to corruption and obstructing the course of justice.

The ICJ is also aware that police are presently seeking to arrest Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, and that they have surrounded his place of residence.

The ICJ has received information alleging that the police have cut off the electricity and water and have actively prevented people from bringing food supplies to him and his family.

The ICJ urges the authorities in Swaziland to immediately investigate the situation of the Chief Justice and, if the allegations are substantiated, to immediately restore supply of essential services to the Chief Justices family, denied in violation of rights guaranteed under the Swaziland’s Constitution and its international legal obligations.

“The arrest and attempted arrest of several judges, and a High Court Registrar as in this case, invariably raises questions of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary,” said Wilder Tayler Secretary General of the ICJ.

“The ICJ therefore calls on the authorities in Swaziland to conduct themselves with rigorous adherence to rule of law principles, the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary. They must also do so with strict respect for international human rights law,” he added.

The ICJ emphasizes that the Chief Justice and the other judges are entitled as everyone else in Swaziland to freedom from arbitrary detention and the right to a fair trial guaranteed under international law.

These protections include the right to be informed the reasons for their arrest and the nature of any criminal charges, the right to representation by a lawyer of their choice and the right to be considered for bail if appropriate.

If no crime is alleged, but serious professional misconduct is suspected, then arrest and detention is inappropriate.

Additional information:

The ICJ has had longstanding concerns with the state of the independence of the judiciary and legal profession and the fair administration of the justice in Swaziland.

The ICJ has recently intervened in a case involving the conviction of prominent lawyer Thulani Maseko in an unfair trial.

For an ICJ analysis of the independence of the judiciary and legal profession in Swaziland, go here.


Arnold Tsunga, Regional Director, ICJ’s Africa Programme, t: +27 731318411, e: arnold.tsunga(a)icj.org

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