Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Swaziland editor Bheki Makhubu and lawyer convicted

In what has been seen as a major blow to the journalism profession and human rights in Swaziland, respected editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko have been convicted for contempt of court. 

Delivering his judgment, controversial Judge Mpendulo Simelane also launched an attack on journalists, saying the Swaziland Constitution does not grant absolute rights for freedom of expression and therefore journalists must exercise caution. 

Judge Simelane also rejected the defence’s citing of a United States case on contempt on the grounds that Swaziland was not like the US and its laws are clearly inapplicable, therefore the kingdom cannot be benchmarked against it. 

Makhubu and Maseko were facing contempt charges initiated by Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi for articles published in the February edition of the Nation relating to contempt charges, also brought by Ramodibedi, against a chief government vehicle inspector who dared to ticket a judge’s driver. The driver was ferrying Judge Esther Ota without the required authorisation for the use of a government car. 

The articles in the Nation attacked the arrest of the inspector as an abuse of authority. 

Makhubu and Maseko were arrested on March 18 and thrown into Mbabane’s Sidvwashini Prison on the orders of Ramodibedi, who arraigned them in his chambers and did not afford them the opportunity for legal representation. Denied bail as a “flight risk”, they have remained in a cell with hardened criminals for almost four months. 

Simelane, who is seen as Ramodibedi’s stooge, today delivered a highly emotional and hostile judgment. He rejected almost all the evidence submitted by the defence and its witnesses, saying that in his opinion the Crown had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt. 

Harshest sentence
During mitigation, director of public prosecutions Nkosinathi Maseko implored the judge to pass the harshest sentence as a deterrent to other would-be offenders and to show that contempt of court is a serious offence. Simelane reserved sentencing for a date still to be announced. 

“It was expected. The indications were quite clear and the defence did raise it when leading evidence that they had heard rumours that a judgment of three years had already been drawn up from the beginning,” said a human rights lawyer interviewed at the high court after the verdict. 

Many supporters who attended the hearing shared the same sentiments. They said this case had been treated politically from the onset. 

Further compounding their concerns was the fact that Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Sibusiso Shongwe was seen coming out of Simelane’s chambers before the judgment. 

“I bet we will be vindicated now as things are going as expected. For instance, how do you explain the presence of the minister [of justice] here just before the judgment?” wondered the lawyer. 

Serving a suspended sentence
Sources at the high court have said Makhubu and Maseko would be sentenced to no less than three years. 

Makhubu is already serving a suspended sentence of three months for a previous conviction on contempt of court charges, also for criticising Ramodibedi.  

Members of political parties were barred from entering the court premises, so they continued to show support for Makhubu and Maseko throughout the proceedings in peaceful protest and political songs outside the gates.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Amabhungane
Amabhungane
Developing investigative journalism in the public interest. Digging dung. Fertilising democracy.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Fishing subsidies in the W. Cape: ‘Illegal fishing is our...

Fishers claim they are forced into illegal trawling because subsidies only benefit big vessels

Kenya’s beach boys fall into sex tourism, trafficking

In the face of their families’ poverty, young men, persuaded by the prospect of wealth or education, travel to Europe with their older female sponsors only to be trafficked for sex

High court reinstates Umgeni Water board

The high court has ruled that the dissolution of the water entity’s board by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was unfair and unprocedural
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×