The ICJ condemned today the sentence imposed on Thulani Rudolph Maseko and Bheki Makhubu following their conviction on two counts of contempt of court.
The ICJ believes that the sentence imposed, of two years imprisonment, without the alternative option of a fine, is shocking to all reasonable and informed persons.
Thulani Maseko (photo) and Bheki Makhubu were charged with two counts of contempt of court emanating from articles published in February and March 2014, in which they questioned circumstances surrounding the arrest of a government vehicle inspector.
They were convicted as charged and sentenced on the morning of 25 July 2014.
The sentence punishes the defendants for having exercized their right to freedom of expression and to hold opinions without interference.
The sentencing is also disproportionate in comparison to similar cases, which have invariably been punished with sentences of 1 to 3 months imprisonment with the option to pay a fine.
The imposition of such a harsh penalty sends a chilling message to the effect that freedom of expression is a right in name only.
It also has the outcome of effectively removing the right of society to hold their leaders, including judicial officers, accountable.
In effect, the judiciary is being shielded from any public scrutiny and in the future no Swazi citizen would dare criticize judges for any act of misconduct or abuse of power for fear of receiving lengthy prison terms in reprisal.
“This sentence is essentially unfair and no reasonable superior court should uphold it. We urge the High Court to grant bail pending appeal once an application has been filed,” said Wilder Tayler, Secretary-General of the ICJ. “Thulani and Bheki should be immediately released from custody since they have been punished for the legitimate exercise of their human rights”.
Arnold Tsunga, Director, ICJ Africa Regional Programme, Arnold.tsunga(a)icj.org
Martin Okumu-Masiga, Deputy Director, ICJ Africa Regional Programme, Martin.okumu-masiga(a)icj.org