Swaziland’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has warned people and the media in the kingdom that they face prosecution if they discuss the case of a magazine editor and a human rights lawyer jailed on remand for criticising the Swazi Chief Justice.
The Chief Justice is the chair of the JSC, according to the Swaziland Constitution. The other members are directly appointed by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
In an unprecedented move the JSC issued the threat in a media statement. It was delivered after newspapers in Swaziland raised objections to the case of Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the nation magazine and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer. Both men have been in jail since 17 March 2014 facing contempt of court charges for articles they wrote in the magazine criticising Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the judiciary.
The JSC warned organisations and members of the public that it was wrong for anyone to comment on the pending contempt of court proceedings at this stage.
The warning also follows publication of two articles by the Swazi Observer group of newspapers that criticised the appointment of High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane and suggested CJ Ramodibedi and other judges had received allowances they were not entitled to.
The publication by the Observer has added significance because it is in effect owned by King Mswati, and the King appoints the judges in his kingdom.
Reporting the media release, the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, said, ‘The JSC has since warned organisations and members of the public that it was inappropriate for anyone to comment on the pending contempt of court proceedings at this stage.
‘The commission further stated that contempt of court in this jurisdiction was one of the most serious offences against the administration of justice.’
The JSC said Swaziland’s Constitution did not allow people to criticise the judiciary. This was ‘in order to maintain the authority, dignity and independence of the courts’.
The Times reported, ‘The JSC said in this jurisdiction [Swaziland], freedom of expression was subject to respect for other people’s rights and it was not absolute as the progressive organisations and other like-minded persons seem to suggest.’
KING’S PAPER QUESTIONS ABILITY OF JUDGE
EDITOR IS A SECRET SECURITY RISK: GOVT