Swaziland: ICJ concerned at moves to re-arrest human rights defenders Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu
The ICJ is gravely concerned at reports that fresh arrest warrants have been issued for human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu following efforts by the court to have them remanded in custody.
The ICJ had welcomed the release of the two men on 6 April, pursuant to an order of the High Court.
They had spent 20 days in arbitrary detention on spurious charges arising out of an article they wrote and was published.
“These attempts to have the two re-arrested and detained while an appeal is pending in the Supreme Court against the High Court decision ordering their release is an attack not only against these two men but on the rule of law in Swaziland,” said Arnold Tsunga, Director of the Africa Programme of the International Commission of Jurists.
“The action underlines an unrelenting desire by the authorities to use the courts to punish Thulani Maseko (photo) and Bheki Makhubu for having done no more than express their views on the administration of justice in the Kingdom of Swaziland,” he added.
The ICJ calls on the Swazi authorities to end the harassment of both men, including by withdrawing the arrest warrants, and to ensure that in Swaziland people are able to enjoy the rights to freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention as required by international human rights law.
The accused had been released after filing an application before the High Court where they sought a declaratory order on the grounds that the warrant of arrest issued by the CJ was unconstitutional, unlawful and irregular.
High Court judge Mumcy Dlamini set aside the warrant of arrest that had been issued by the Chief Justice Ramodibedi on 17 March 2014.
Commenting on the human rights situation in the country, Arnold Tsunga said: “While the release of Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu is a positive development, their arrest and detention for exercising their freedom of expression is a reminder of the limited space for the enjoyment of human rights in Swaziland and the need for greater protection of human rights defenders and members of the legal profession.”
The accused were arrested after they wrote opinion pieces in a periodical publication known as The Nation Magazine, in which they question the justice system and call for the constitution to be upheld.
The articles comment on the case of government vehicle inspector Bhantshana Gwebu, who is also facing a contempt of court charge involving the chief justice.
The ICJ urges authorities in Swaziland to respect their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantee the right to the freedom of expression, including media freedom, the right to personal liberty and protection from arbitrary arrest and the right to a fair trial.
Arnold Tsunga or Martin Okumu-Masiga, on +27 11 024 8268 or +27 73 131 8411 or +27 78 234 9125.