Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

Thulani Maseko


Imprisoned human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko penned a letter to President Barack Obama on June 12, 2014, imploring the president of the United States, and its allies to take a principled stand and apply pressure on Swaziland’s King Mswati III to initiate much-needed democratic reforms.

“Maseko, at the time of his writing, had already spent over 100 days in detention for daring to publicly lament the lack of judicial independence in his country.” said Robert a statement issued by Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Center for Justice and Human Rights.

Six weeks later, Mr. Maseko would be sentenced to serve a two-year prison term for “contempt of court,” with the judge in the case declaring that the harsh sentence was meant to instill fear in other would-be dissenters and silence an already beleaguered human rights community.

“This touching letter from Thulani, written from a prison cell in Swaziland, is a testament to not only his unwavering courage in the face of unconscionable repression, but to the spirit of all of Swaziland’s people who yearn for democracy and the rule of law,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. “As Thulani notes in his letter, there is much that the United States and our democratic allies in Africa and elsewhere can do to help improve the deteriorating situation in Swaziland. I hope our leaders, including President Obama, are listening, particularly at this important time in the run up to the first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit,” he added.

Thulani’s case, and that of his co-defendant, editor Bheki Makhubu, who received concurrent 2-year prison sentences without the option of a fine, is part of a larger trend of arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists in Swaziland, demonstrating a brazen disregard for basic legal procedures and universally recognized human rights.

“Freedom of expression is a basic human right that must be protected,” said Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights. “By violating Thulani’s rights as a citizen, authorities in Swaziland have infringed on the rights of everyone, setting a horrible precedent in an already dire situation. We call on the authorities in Swaziland to immediately review Thulani and Bheki’s case, in line with long-standing international norms and procedures.”


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