2 critics of Swaziland government convicted

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Associated Press

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:02 AM

Updated Thursday, Jul 17 at 8:05 AM

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Two government critics in Swaziland were found guilty of contempt of court on Thursday in a case that focused attention on human rights in the landlocked African kingdom.

Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu, editor of Swaziland's The Nation magazine, had been charged after publishing articles in which they lamented alleged threats to judicial independence.

The two critics are considering an appeal, said Sipho Gumedze, another human rights lawyer in Swaziland. While the judge deferred sentencing, such a conviction can carry a sentence of several months in jail and a fine.

"It's unfortunate, but the struggle should continue, regardless," said Maseko's wife, Tenele.

Maseko, who studied law at American University's Washington College of Law, and Makhubu, the journalist, were jailed in March. In the articles that landed them in trouble, they criticized the prosecution of a government vehicle inspector who was arrested after impounding a vehicle used by a top judge.

In court documents, a judge defined contempt of court as the violation of the dignity of a judicial body or interfering with the administration of justice, and noted that "the right to freedom of expression is not absolute."

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch. The country held parliamentary elections last year, but many international observers said the process was a sham designed to prolong the king's grip on power.

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