Press release January 23, 2023
Eswatini: Human Rights Lawyer’s Killing Must Be Investigated
Freedom House mourns Thulani Maseko, a steadfast defender of human rights, and calls on authorities to conduct an independent investigation into his murder.
In response to the killing by unknown assailants of prominent human rights lawyer and activist Thulani Maseko, Mpangi Kwenge, chief of party for the Advancing Rights in Southern Africa program at Freedom House, issued the following statement:
“We condemn in the strongest terms the murder of Thulani Maseko, and call on the Eswatini authorities to swiftly conduct an independent, transparent investigation and for those responsible to be prosecuted according to the law. Scores of activists have been killed during protests and in other attacks in Eswatini over the past year and no one has been held accountable.
“This inaction makes a mockery of the rule of law and calls into question Eswatini’s authorities’ willingness to carry out necessary democratic reforms demanded by citizens. We mourn a steadfast defender of human rights and extend our condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Thulani Maseko.”
On January 21, gunmen shot and killed human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko as he sat in the living room of his home in Luhleko.
Maseko was chair of the Swaziland Multi-Stakeholders Forum (MSF), a coalition of civil society groups, churches, and political parties formed to engage in dialogue with the Eswatini authorities on key economic, political, and rights reforms. He held a Hubert Humphrey Fellowship in Leadership from the American University Washington College of Law, and was an outspoken critic of Eswatini’s monarchy. In 2014, he and journalist Bheki Makhubu were arrested by the authorities on charges of “scandalizing the judiciary” and “contempt of court” following the publication of articles criticizing the judicial system. They were sentenced to two years in prison before their release in 2015.
Eswatini is an absolute monarchy ruled by King Mswati III, who has led the country for over 30 years. Political parties are not legally recognized and are banned from contesting elections. The kingdom has experienced regular bouts of protest and unrest for well over a decade. Eswatini’s monarch, King Mswati III, on January 20 threatened to “deal with” activists deemed to be causing instability by criticizing his regime.
Eswatini is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2022 with a score of 17/100.
Freedom House is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to create a world where all are free. We inform the world about threats to freedom, mobilize global action, and support democracy’s defenders.
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