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MISA condemns arrest of human rights lawyer

(MISA/IFEX) - 9 June 2009 - The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter has learnt with shock of the arrest and detention of human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko.

MISA Swaziland notes with great concern that the government is increasing its hostility towards dissenters. It is our view that laws such as the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, under which Maseko has been charged, are draconian and unwelcome in a civilized society like Swaziland because they are intimidating and instill further fear among the citizens. We are concerned that the government continues to use such laws to rule by fear and this raises the question whether citizens are free to enjoy the rights as enshrined in the national constitution.

MISA stands for freedom of expression, which the Constitution of Swaziland also guarantees, and condemns any action by the government that seeks to silence through draconian pieces of legislation. To this end, we believe the comments Maseko is alleged to have uttered and is detained for were within his basic right to express himself. We further believe that he cannot be persecuted for expressing himself.

We, therefore, condemn Maseko's arrest and detention and call for his immediate unconditional release along with Mario Masuku who has now spent more than six months in jail for expressing himself.

Swaziland's leadership should begin to respect people's opinions and encourage the spirit of dialogue instead. It is healthy for citizens to discuss and debate issues in the public domain, hence we encourage all concerned to a round-table forum to discuss pertinent issues that seek to take the country's socio-political destiny forward. Detaining and harassing dissenting voices is definitely not the answer and is also not healthy for our peace and stability.


BACKGROUND:

Thulani Maseko was arrested on 2 June 2009 and charged under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938.

Maseko is a lawyer for the detained President of the Peoples Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Mario Masuku. Maseko was arrested for alleged utterances he made during a Workers Day event held on 1 May 2009 in Manzini, Swaziland's second city.

He is charged with Contravening Section 5 (1) read with Section 5 (2) (a) (i) or (ii) or read with Section 5 (2) (d) of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938 as amended in that on the May 1 (Workers Day) celebration at Manzini Salesian Sports Ground he unlawfully uttered words with a subversive intention.

He is alleged to have said: "MJ Dlamini and Jack Govender died for the liberation of this country. One day the Lozitha bridge will be called MJ and Govender bridge."

MJ Dlamini and Jack Govender recently died while allegedly trying to bomb an overhead bridge next to one of King Mswati III's palaces at Lozitha. It is said the bomb went off prematurely killing the two instantly and two other suspects survived. One was arrested and is currently detained while the other escaped.

When Maseko appeared for remand at Manzini Magistrate Court he conducted his own defence and has not applied for any bail.

[SIGNED]
COMFORT MABUZA
NATIONAL DIRECTOR

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