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Popular editor in leg irons for offending judge in an editorial

Bheti Makhubu

Bheti Makhubu

(GIN) — The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is protesting the “degrading” treatment of a newspaper editor whose editorial criticizing the Chief Justice of Swaziland angered the top judge.

Editor Bheti Makhubu and human rights attorney Thulani Maseko were both called into court on contempt charges by Michael Ramodibedi, the justice spotlighted in separate pieces that appeared in the independent newspaper The Nation. Makhubu and Maseko scorned the judge for locking up an inspector who monitored the abuse of government vehicles. The inspector, who had impounded the car of another top judge, served a week behind bars and was released on bail.

Maseko’s and Makhubu’s opinion pieces in The Nation questioned the arrest of inspector Bhantshana Vincent Gwebu and criticized the lack of impartiality of the Swazi judicial system.

It was published pictures of Makhubu being brought into court in leg irons that truly infuriated Swazi human rights activists. Musa Hlophe, coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations, wrote: “What an insult to those Swazis who cherish the ideal of respect for human dignity.” The Constitution, he said, states in Section 18 that “The dignity of every person is inviolable and a person shall not be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

“While it must be humiliating to have two prominent law-abiding citizens being incarcerated as the two have been,” continued Hlophe, “to put them in leg irons as though they were not only dangerous, but violent common criminals is totally inexcusable and insulting in the extreme.”

“Makhubu is a prisoner of conscience and not a common criminal for him to be subjected to such treatment,” said another legal expert. But a government public relations officer, Sanele Mngotmetulu-Nxumalo, defended the treatment. “It is one of the things that remain a secret. Security is very secretive. Therefore, if I can disclose to you when, how, why and to whom we use leg irons, that could compromise our security. Security is very important to us,” she said.

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