Swaziland Court Judgment Violates Freedom of Expression
The recent sentencing of a prominent journalist in Swaziland is a blatant disregard for the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression and is emblematic of King Mswati’s autocratic rule. Freedom House calls upon the government of Swaziland to withdraw all charges against Bheki Makhubu and stop its continued attack on its citizens’ political rights and civil liberties.
On April 17, 2013, the High Court of Swaziland sentenced prominent journalist Bheki Makhubu to two years in jail if he is unable pay a fine of $21,700 within three days. In a clear attempt to stifle media freedoms, Justice Bheki Maphalala found Bheki Makhubu, editor of The Swazi Nation, guilty of ‘scandalizing the court.’ This sentence follows the publication of two articles written by Makhubu that criticized the administration of Swaziland’s judiciary and is a violation of Article 24 of the Swazi constitution, which protects freedom of expression. The sentence also imposes a disproportionate sentence to the alleged offense. Makhubu plans tofile an appeal before the three day deadline expires, but if the appeal is not filed or the fine not paid by April 23, 2013, he faces immediate imprisonment.
Swaziland has regularly been cited for its repressive media environment. No criticism of the king or royal family is tolerated, journalists are regularly harassed, and all of the main media outlets are either state-owned or -controlled. The court system in Swaziland is controlled by the king and his for-hire Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, who was the target of much of the criticism in Makhubu’s articles. As Swaziland approaches elections in September 2013, Freedom House calls for the government of Swaziland to allow its media the space to reflect the opinions of all Swazis without recourse to outdated laws and the arrest, harassment or torture of journalists by the authorities.
Swaziland is ranked Not Free in both the Freedom House Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Press indexes.
Freedom in the World 2012: Swaziland
Freedom of the Press 2012: Swaziland