Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights denounces the continued imprisonment of human rights defenders Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu in Swaziland.
Maseko, a renowned activist and lawyer, and Makhubu, a veteran journalist, have each been unjustly detained for publishing articles critical of the lack of judicial independence in Swaziland, Africa's last absolute monarchy. One year ago today, both men were detained after a closed court hearing. On July 25,they were sentenced to two-year prison terms by Judge Mpendulo Simelane. Judge Simelane stated in court that the accused were a "disgrace" and that the harsh sentences were based on the assumption that the two men were plotting "regime change." Maseko and several others also face trumped-up sedition charges for allegedly carrying banners and wearing t-shirts of a banned political organization, a trial that will likely begin this summer. Political parties have been banned in Swaziland since 1973.
"King Mswati III imprisoned Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu in retaliation for their demands for a more just and responsive Swaziland," said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. "They have received only a shadow of due process, and their continued detention makes clear how little regard the Swazi regime has for the basic rights of its people. I urge King Mswati III to uphold the rule of law in his nation and release these brave prisoners of conscience."
The case against Maseko and Makhubu has been universally decried as a sham from the outset. Due to these concerns, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights participated in a delegation to Swaziland last December and attended an appeal hearing at the Supreme Court. The delegation was shocked by the highly irregular proceedings, which contravened international standards for a fair and impartial trial. The delegation witnessed serious confusion regarding trial administration and the distribution of core documents; biased statements by the justices regarding a case that is pending before them but has yet to be heard; and a reversal of position by the court regarding its ability to hear a petition for bail which it had previously invited, raising significant questions regarding the independence and impartiality of the proceedings.
Last year, due to longstanding concerns, the Obama Administration withdrew Swaziland's African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligibility, joining only The Gambia and South Sudan as the three countries to have their beneficiary status revoked in direct response to the lack of respect for human rights.
"Today, there is no justice in Swaziland," said Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of Robert F. Kennedy Partners for Human Rights. "The kingdom's judicial system is dominated by one man, a monarch who can unilaterally deny human rights according to his own whims, including free speech and freedom of expression. These actions violate the rights enshrined in Swaziland's constitution, as well as a wide array of international legal standards."
For more information on Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights' work in Swaziland, please see thepetition sent to King Mswati III last year, demanding that he release all prisoners of conscience, replace the current Chief Justice, and take concrete measures to restore the confidence of the Swazi citizenry, including ceasing the unlawful arrest and harassment of members of civil society and political activists. You can also visit our SwaziJustice website, which includes a video featuring Archbishop Desmond Tutu, actress Alfre Woodard, several UN Special Rapporteurs, and others, demanding the unconditional release of both Thulani and Bheki.