Musa convicted and sent to prison

Former student leader and human rights activist Musa Ngubeni was convicted of contravening Swaziland’s Explosives ACT of 1961 by magistrate Joe Gumedze on Tuesday.

He was whisked away to prison after the conviction and is expected to appear in court on May 21 for sentencing.

Musa Ngubeni was arrested together with student leader Maxwell Dlamini in 2011 and charged with contravening the Explosives Act. They were both arrested during protests against absolute monarch King Mswati III’s government.

According to Ngubeni and Maxwell Dlamini they were subjected to torture during their interrogation.

– I was tied to a bench with my face looking upwards and they suffocated me with the black plastic bag with a huge police officer on my stomach. They [Swazi police] asked me where the guns were and who was going to come to Swaziland to overthrow the king. They did that over and over again till I collapsed. They told me that they will kill me for causing trouble in the country, Dlamini said at the time.

Amnesty International mentioned Musa Ngubeni and Maxwell Dlamini in their 2012 and 2013 reports.  Amongst other things, Amnesty said that they were held incommunicado without access to a lawyer or contact with their families, that they were denied legal access while in police custody and during their hearing at the magistrate’s Court, and that they were subsequently released in remand custody and placed under oppressive bail conditions.

They were both released on bail in 2012 under strict bail conditions, including having to report to the police four times a week. Their trial resumed in 2014, where Dlamini was acquitted.

Ngubeni and Dlamini both insisted that the charges against them were fabricated and political, and that the state had stalled their case for three years due to lack of evidence.

A mysterious brown shoe box, that was allegedly found near Ngubeni’s home in Mbikwakhe when he was arrested in 2011 and was supposed to have contained explosives, detonators and wires, was never produced in court.

Initially a witness for the prosecution had claimed that the box was too dangerous to bring to court. Later the box was claimed to have exploded after a South African bomb expert had tried to assemble it.

The trial has been described as a farce by Swaziland’s democratic movement. Amongst other things because testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were untruthful and contradicted each other, because the pair were interrogated by what appeared to be hired South African Police investigators without the presence of Ngubeni’s and Dlamini’s lawyers, and because Ngubeni and Dlamini appeared in court on occasion without legal representation.

– Ngubeni’s conviction comes at a time where the Swazi monarchy is tightening its grip on power, as political parties remain banned since 1973. Political dissidents are either jailed, tortured or exiled, says former President of youth organization SWAYOCO, Bheki Dlamini.

Freedom House rates Swaziland as one of the least free countries in the world, on par with the Democratic Republic of Congo and the United Arab Emirates.

– Safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention, such as time limits on detention without charge, are not always respected in practice. Lengthy pretrial detention is common, the organization wrote in their latest report on Swaziland.

Musa Ngubeni was chairperson of the student representative council at the University of Swaziland in 2008/09. He graduated with a bachelor of laws in 2010, after which he worked for the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice.

He was presently finishing his Master’s degree in Law at the University of South Africa.

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