Manzini – Thulani Maseko, the Swazi human rights lawyer in prison for two years for criticising King Mswati’s judicial system, is entering his second week of a three-week isolation in solitary confinement for writing a letter from prison criticising the government.
Rule of law advocates called for his immediate release yesterday, saying the UN could regard his continued isolation as torture.
Maseko’s letter from prison was distributed by the Washington-based Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights.
“There is some good that has been the result of our persecution. There can be no question that our conviction and prison sentence sharply drew the world’s focus to Swaziland,” Maseko wrote in his letter. “We are not ashamed, for there is nothing to be ashamed of for standing up for good against an evil system,” Maseko wrote.
In the letter written from Big Bend Prison, Maseko criticised the royal Tinkhundla system of government that gives Mswati absolute power, which he exercises through hand-picked chiefs.
Although Swazis are allowed to elect MPs, parliament merely rubber-stamps Mswati’s policies in bills brought before MPs by palace-appointed cabinet ministers.
Maseko was particularly critical of Mswati’s remarks last month that the country’s problems are imagined by troublemakers outside the country to give the country a bad reputation. “It pains us to hear the leaders of our country raising a hullaballoo about ‘enemies of the country’ and people who ‘tarnish the image of the country’, Maseko wrote. “We want to say the true and real enemies of Swaziland and its people are those who oppose democracy.
Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F Kennedy Centre, said: “The cruel decision to move Thulani into solitary confinement and deny him visitors is yet another brazen indication that the Swazi regime has no regard for the basic human rights of his people.”
And in Joburg, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) called yesterday for the immediate release of Maseko.
“The UN 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.