Thulani Maseko, a prominent human rights lawyer, has been arrested and is currently in police custody. He was initially charged under Swaziland’s recently enacted Suppression of Terrorism Act, but now faces charges under the Sedition Act.
Maseko is currently acting for Mario Masuku, president of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), who has spent six months in police custody awaiting trial. Masuku was also initially charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act but now also faces charges under the Sedition Act.
Maseko’s arrest comes amid growing demands for democratic reform in Swaziland. Despite a new constitution, political parties are not entitled to contest elections and the king continues to rule by decree.
The Suppression of Terrorism Act, enacted in late 2008, has already been the subject of much international and domestic criticism. Its definition of terrorism is so broad it could potentially encompass any activity and the powers given the Minister of Justice to ban individuals and organizations are almost unfettered.
Calling for the release of Mr Maseko, Nicole Fritz, director of SALC, said; “This is one more instance in which the Swazi government shows that it has no genuine commitment to constitutional democracy in Swaziland. That it would arrest Thulani who has been involved in almost every important human rights challenge in Swaziland in recent years shows just how shameless it is.”
Sisonke Msimang, OSISA director, added: “In recent years, as the region has been focused on the crisis in Zimbabwe, Swaziland’s King Mswati has systematically targeted civil society activists and human rights defenders in a manner that emulates Mugabe. Swaziland’s political crisis deserves far more attention than it has previously received.”