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Hogan Lovells Petition Moves UN Working Group to Call For Release of Human Rights Lawyer

18 June 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C., 18 June 2015 – Hogan Lovells welcomes the opinion by The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) condemning as arbitrary the detention of prominent human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and calling on the Government of Swaziland to ensure his immediate release.

In response to a petition from Hogan Lovells, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and the Center for Human Rights of the American Bar Association, the UNWGAD affirmed that the Swaziland government’s detention of Maseko is unlawful and that his rights to freedom of expression, liberty, and to a fair trial had been violated. 

In addition to his immediate release, the UNWGAD said he should be paid adequate compensation, enforceable by law.

“It is gratifying that the UNWGAD reaffirmed the principle that a lawyer has the right to take part in public discussions of matters concerning the law and administration of justice, as Thulani Maseko did,” said Hogan Lovells partner Marc Gottridge who led the team that produced the petition. “Freedom of expression is such an important right that use of contempt of court proceedings to curtail it as was done in this case is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.”

Maseko, who is also a feature writer for The Nation magazine, was arrested in March 2014 shortly after he published an article criticizing the Government’s handling of the arrest and detention of another Swazi citizen.

He was sentenced to two years of imprisonment, after a trial the ICJ had condemned as unfair and not complying with international standards on the right to a fair trial.

In its opinion taken during its 72nd session between 20 and 29 April 2015, the UNWGAD determined that the detention of Maseko was arbitrary because it had been carried out in violation of his right to freedom of opinion and expression and as a result of numerous fair trial violations, including by judicial officials.

The UNWGAD concluded that Chief Justice Ramodibedi and High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane, the judges ordering (and re-ordering) Maseko’s detention who were also involved in the conduct of the trial had not conducted themselves impartially.

Their conduct resulted in Maseko’s denial of a fair trial before an independent and impartial court as required under international law and standards.

The UNWGAD also found violations of a number of other fair trial rights, including the denial of Maseko’s right to legal assistance.

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