Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko shot dead in eSwatini

January 23, 2023

On 22 January 2023 Freedom Under Law (FUL) said that the news that eSwatini human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko has been gunned down in cold blood comes as no surprise. The eSwatini government said Maseko was brutally shot and killed by unknown criminals at his home in Mbabane on Saturday night. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/03464020-c1e6-11ea-a3f7-933e766692a6

A ceaseless and fearless human rights lawyer, an outspoken critic of the regime in his beloved eSwatini, Thulani had all too long suffered at the hands of a heedless regime. But he lived by the motto: ‘My head is bloody, but unbowed … I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul’.

“Sadly, and to the shame of those engaged in the administration of justice in his country, all too often he was a lone beacon of light,” FUL chair judge Johann Kriegler said. He said no-one could be misled by the cynical message of condolence put out on behalf of the eSwatini government.

His passing has not only left his family bereft of a loved one; his country has been left the poorer, its human rights conscience brutally stifled.

FUL said in paying tribute to Maseko that it respectfully suggested it would be fitting if the Law Society of eSwatini were to mark his passing by observing January 21 every year as a day of mourning his death and rededication to the rule of law. “To his widow and family we express our grateful condolences. They have paid a bitter price on behalf of all who try to serve the principles for which their dear one lived.

According to the eSwatini government, Maseko was shot by “unknown criminals”. “[His] demise is a loss to the nation, and his footprints as a human rights lawyer are there as proof of his contributions to the country. He will be surely missed,” it said in a statement.  Spokesperson Alpheous Nxumalo said the country’s security forces had assured the government that they were already at work looking for the killers and would not rest until they have been brought to book. “Government also wants to warn against speculations and insinuations, peddled particularly on social media platforms in instances like these. Again, government distinctively disassociates… and the country’s authorities from these heinous acts.”

Maseko chaired the Multi-Stakeholders Forum, a collaboration of political parties and civil society groups working to amplify calls for democratic reforms. 

In 2018, Maseko took Swaziland’s King Mswati III to court for changing the country’s name. He had argued that the resources to be channelled to the name change should rather go towards improving living standards of the poor, according to reports by City Press. In 2014, Maseko was sentenced to two years in prison, with the editor of news magazine The Nation, Bheki Makhubu, for contempt of court over articles critical of the government and judiciary. The Nation published articles co-authored by the two men which were critical of the chief justice and suggested that he may have abused his powers. See also: https://lawyersforlawyers.org/en/lawyers/thulani-maseko/

A very impressive group of NGOs and individuals co-signed a statement condemning his killing: https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/eswatini-condemnation-of-assassination-of-renowed-hrd-thulani-maseko

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2023-01-22-human-rights-lawyer-thulani-masekos-murder-is-no-surprise-says-freedom-under-law/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/25/eswatini-activist-rights-lawyer-brutally-killed

https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/human-rights-lawyer-thulani-maseko-shot-dead-outside-home-in-eswatini-20230122

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-thulani-maseko

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