Judge’s delay keeps Swazi protest leaders in jail

Two leaders of last month’s pro-democracy protest in Swaziland had their bail appeal delayed on Friday, after the judge recused himself because he lives near one of the activists.

Student leader Maxwell Dlamini and fellow activist Musa Ngubeni were arrested on April 13 in possession of what police claim was bomb-making material, following rare protests against Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III.

A magistrate court denied them bail on May 6, but their lawyer appealed to the Mbabane High Court. After Judge Nkululeko Hlophe’s recusal, no new date was set for a hearing.

If Dlamini does not receive bail, he wants the court to allow him to finish his midyear exams at the University of Swaziland from behind bars.

Supporters say the explosives charges are trumped up and believe the activists are political prisoners.

“They are trying to frustrate us. We must stand our ground. What we are saying is simple: We demand freedom and multiparty democracy. You cannot arrest all of us,” said Mxolisi Ngcamphalala, among about 30 activists who gathered at the court.

If convicted the two activists could face up to five years in prison but more likely a $700 fine for first offenders.

The jet-set lifestyle of Mswati, 43, and his 13 wives has become increasingly controversial in the small southern African kingdom, where nearly 70% of people live on less than a dollar a day.

Discontent over government moves to slash civil servants’ salaries in the face of a crippling budget crisis erupted into street protests on April 13, with police detaining, beating and tear-gassing demonstrators. — Sapa-AFP

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