15 July 2015, Swaziland
Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini were granted bail by the Supreme Court of Swaziland after spending more than a year in prison charged with sedition and terrorism. Acting Chief Justice Bheki Maphalala, Justice Jacobus Annandale and Acting Supreme Court Judge Rob Cloete served on the bench that granted the PUDEMO leader and the youth leader bail on the morning of the 14th of July 2015. As most oppositional political leaders are out on bail, and have been for many years, this could effectively be seen as their release. The release follows the acquittal of human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and Nation Magazine editor Bheki Makhuby on the 30th of June, convicted for contempt of court in 2014. They were acquitted by the Supreme after serving 15 months of their two years sentences.
A number of international actors, especially the International Labor Organization, the United States and the European Union, have put significant pressure on King Mswati and it would appear that the release of the political prisoners is an attempt to accommodate this criticism while sanitizing the kingdom’s judiciary after the recent internal conflicts. These conflicts include the arrest of the justice minister Sibusiso Shongwe, and judges Mphendulo Simelane and Jacobus Annandale. But perhaps most illustrative of the conflict is the flight of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, who hid away in his mansion outside Mbabane until corruption charges against him were dropped and he could flee to South Africa.
While the release of Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini, and Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu, is an important victory for the pro-democracy movement of Swaziland, it is uncertain what the future will bring. The Suppression of Terrorism Act, which Masuku and Dlamini was prosecuted under, has not been revoked and can still be used to prosecute political opposition.