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30 Jun 2015 15:29
Bheki Makhubu, editor of The Nation (AFP)
Maseko and Makhubu were convicted of contempt of court and
sentenced to two years in prison in March 2014. On Tuesday, Swaziland’s Supreme
Court ordered their immediate release.
According to the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC),
which has supported their case, their release follows an appeal against their
conviction, which was not opposed by the directorate of public prosecutions.
In a statement released on Tuesday, SALC said the case was
initially presided over by Judge Mpendulo Simelane, since charged with corruption and
defeating the ends of justice. SALC said that even those within the Swazi
justice system believed Simelane should have recused himself.
Caroline James, a lawyer at SALC, said, “We are
delighted at today’s result. The Crown’s concession that grave errors were made
during the trial is a vindication for Maseko and Makhubu.”
She said this recognition by the prosecution “that the
court and the role of the prosecution is to prosecute and not to
persecute” was “extremely welcome”.
She said the law has been applied “at the whim of
individuals” by the Swazi court system, in the recent past.
“Today’s victory is a victory not only for Maseko and
Makhubu and their families, but for the rule of law and the independence of the
judiciary in Swaziland more generally,” said James.
Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi was criticised in articles
written by Maseko and Makhubu in theThe Nation magazine.
It was widely believed that the imprisonment of the two was
an attempt to silence their criticism of the judiciary, and the Swazi monarchy
In a letter written on the anniversary of his detention, in
March this year, Maseko said that he and Makhubu were not intimidated by their
“We need to unite around a discussion table to
negotiate the birth of a new democratic society,” Maseko wrote.
Previous attempts to have the two released were
unsuccessful. In November last year, the court could not hear the appeal
because Maseko’s case had not been transcribed. However, at the same time,
another prisoner whose case had not been transcribed was freed.
Maseko was represented by Mandla Mkhwanazi, and Bheki
Makhubu was represented by Advocate Anna-Marie de Vos SC and Ncamiso Manana.
Two other critical voices, and political leaders, Mario
Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini, are also in a Swazi jail. They were arrested after
a May Day rally, on May 1 last year, and have yet to appear for a bail
application. SALC is also assisting in their case.
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