STATEMENT: THE SOUTHERN AFRICA LITIGATION CENTRE CONDEMNS THE USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AGAINST SWAZI LAWYER, THULANI MASEKO

Salc : Staff Writer

Johannesburg: The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) expresses its deepest concern at reports from Swaziland that Thulani Maseko, a prominent human rights lawyer convicted of contempt of court and serving a two-year prison sentence, was placed in solitary confinement for three weeks as punishment for a violation of the prison code.

SALC received information from one of Maseko’s legal representatives that the Big Bend correctional service authorities had moved Maseko into solitary confinement for a period of three weeks and removed all visitation privileges, including from his legal representatives, as a result of his continual writings from prison.

If this is true, SALC condemns this measure in the strongest possible terms.

“The United Nations General Assembly, in its 1990 Resolution on Basic Principles on the Treatment of Prisoners, has called on states to abolish solitary confinement as punishment in prisons,” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, SALC’s executive director. “This is partly because prolonged solitary confinement may constitute torture or cruel and degrading treatment.”

The Swazi Constitution provides that “a person shall not be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and Swaziland is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits the use of torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

“The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment has asserted that any solitary confinement for a period longer than fifteen days – what he defines as ‘prolonged’ – should be subject to an absolute prohibition,” Ramjathan-Keogh said.

Studies have shown that after fifteen days of solitary confinement some of the harmful psychological effects of isolation may become irreversible.

The Special Rapporteur has also made it clear that prisoners subjected to solitary confinement must have access to legal representatives throughout their period in isolation, and must be made aware of their options to challenge the nature and justification for their confinement.

The international community has recognised that using solitary confinement as punishment for sentenced prisoners is an exceptionally cruel penalty for an individual already deprived of his liberty, and prolonged periods of isolation should never be applied by correctional services.

We therefore urge that, if Thulani Maseko is indeed being held in solitary confinement, the Swazi authorities immediately rescind the punishment.

Further info:    Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, SALC Executive Director, +27 10 596 8538 (t); +27 84 514 8039 (c) or kaajalr@salc.org.za

Caroline James, SALC Freedom of Expression Lawyer, +27 10 596 8538 (t); +27 72 200 1813 (c) or carolinej@salc.org.za