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Swazi court orders release of editor, rights activist

Swaziland’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the release of a magazine editor and a prominent human rights lawyer who had been jailed for contempt of court, their legal representative told AFP.

Bheki Makhubu, editor of The Nation, and Thulani Maseko, an executive member of Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland, have been in custody since March last year.

“The court has given an order for their release forthwith,” lawyer Mandla Mkhwananzi told AFP.

The pair were sentenced last July to two years in prison after being found in contempt of court.

They had published articles critical of the then chief justice and alleging lack of impartiality in the authoritarian kingdom’s justice system.

Trial judge Mpendulo Simelane had said reporters were writing “scurrilous” articles which were “reprehensible and unacceptable to right-thinking members of society.”

But lawyers for the journalist and the rights campaigner approached the Supreme Court appealing against both the conviction and sentence.

“We were saying they were wrongfully convicted and harshly sentenced,” said Mkhwananzi.

Makhubu and Maseko’s case drew international attention, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Robert F. Kennedy Center and others lobbying King Mswati III for their release.