/ 14 July 2011

Lawyers accuse Swazi chief justice of sexual harassment

Lawyers Accuse Swazi Chief Justice Of Sexual Harassment

Swazi lawyers have filed a sexual harassment case against the chief justice, who sparked controversy by suspending a judge for “insulting” King Mswati III.

The nation’s lawyers went on strike six days ago to protest against Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi’s decision to suspend judge Thomas Masuku over 12 misdemeanour offences, including a reference to Mswati as “forked-tongued” in a 2010 ruling and a sexual affair with a female judge.

In a case filed with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Wednesday, the Law Society accused Ramodibedi of sexual harassment, based on complaints from five female court workers.

“Justice Ramodibedi has conducted himself in an inappropriate manner towards female employees of the High Court of Swaziland,” read the complaint, which was seen by Agence France-Presse.

“There is prima facie evidence that the chief justice is guilty of charges of sexual harassment,” added the complaint.

The JSC quickly banned Swazi press from publishing details of the lawyers’ complaint.

Lawyers agreed to return to work from Thursday, while the commission studies their complaint.

Ramodibedi, from the nearby kingdom of Lesotho, was brought in last month by Mswati to become chief justice. One of his first acts was an order preventing anyone from “directly or indirectly” suing the king.

Ramodibedi is currently in Botswana, where he sits on the appeals court.

Masuku is one of the few judges who has dared to be critical of Mswati, Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The strike by the lawyers has added to pressure on Mswati, Africa’s last absolute monarch who since April has faced a series of protests demanding democratic reforms.

Civil servants have spearheaded the protests against moves to slash their salaries, as the kingdom struggles with a crippling financial crisis that has left it battling to pay salaries and keep schools and clinics running. — Sapa-AFP