Arrest of Swaziland Editor Bheki Makhubu

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The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) would like to add its voice of condemnation to the many that have already spoken against a decision of the Swaziland Supreme Court to sentence editor of Nation Magazine, Bheki Makhubu to R200 000 or alternatively two years imprisonment. The FXI is appalled by this decision. Bheki Makhubu was charged and convicted of contempt of court by “scandalizing the court” after the Director of Public Prosecutions complained about two articles written by Makhubu and published in November 2009 by Swaziland Independent Publishers (PTY) Ltd. The Nation, is one of Swaziland’s very few independent sources of news.

The FXI believes that litigation instituted against journalists on grounds which tend to have the effect of infringing an individual’s right to freedom of expression and more importantly journalistic freedom is precarious. Cases such as these tend to silence voices which have a legitimate concern and may effectively amount to censorship by the state. The court stated that Makhubu and the publisher had a ‘tendency to bring the administration of justice into disrepute’. Part of the right to freedom of expression is the right to express your opinion which includes the right to show dissent to the way your government rules. The FXI strongly believes that the Judiciary like all human endeavours is not infallible and should therefore be subject to public scrutiny and more especially to the scrutiny and critic of the fourth estate.

The FXI has previously supported Bheki Makhubu when he was arrested in 1999 on a charge of criminal defamation for a controversial article relating to the kings new wife. We feel that this judgment amounts to an assault against Mr. Makhubu, and against press freedom in Swaziland and the region generally. As we draw closer to commemorations of World Press Freedom day on the 3rd of May, we reiterate our commitment to protecting the “free exchange of ideas and knowledge” by word and image as critical components in strengthening democracy in the region.

We understand an appeal has been lodged by Makhubu and the sentence has effectively been suspended in light of the determination of the appeal. The FXI encourages the court to view the appeal justly and to consider the devastating effects on freedom of expression, press freedom and the wider implications on democracy in the region.

For more information contact:

Phenyo Butale +27 (0) 72 400 6619