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SwaziJustice Campaign Seeks Freedom for Jailed Journalists

Jeffrey Smith with Swaziland's Sipho Gumedze.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is leading efforts to have incarcerated Swaziland journalist Bheki Makhubu and columnist Thulani Maseko freed.

Makhubu, editor of a small-circulation monthly comment magazine called the Nation, was jailed with Maseko, a writer and human rights journalist in July for publishing articles critical of the lack of independence of the judiciary in the country.

The authorities claimed the two had scandalized the courts in their articles by penning columns supporting a state clerk who was charged for trying to put right a system that allowed judicial officers to misuse public cars.

With their sentence appeal hearing set of next week, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is raising international awareness about the two and their struggle for free speech through a campaign called SwaziJustice.

Senior Advocacy Officer, Jeff Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights told VOA his organization is working with others to support Makhubu and Maseko, who have now been in jail for more than 200 days.

“The campaign has been widely embraced and received very well internationally,” said Smith, adding letters of support and e-mails were pouring in from around the world as the two prepare for next week’s court appearance.

“It is sad that they were sentenced to two years in prison for exercising their freedom of expression by writing and publishing articles criticizing the judiciary in Swaziland,” said Smith. “They do not belong in jail because they did not do anything wrong.”

He said the jailing of the two is part the continuum of Swaziland’s long tale abuse of civil rights and free expression, adding more needs to be done to support those in Swaziland calling for justice.

SwaziJustice recently released a video drawing the world’s attention to Makhubu and Maseko’s plight.

“The trial of Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu violated their human rights to a free and fair trial by an impartial judiciary,” says part of the commentary in the video.

“Moreover, the imprisonment of Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu is a violation of their rights to liberty and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.”

CNN recently awarded Makhubu and Maseko with the prestigious CNN Press Freedom Award for their struggle for free speech in Swzailand.

Swaziland is Africa’s remaining monarchy under King Mswati.

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