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CALS and R2P mark one year since Thulani Maseko's murder

- Lee-Anne Bruce

One year after Thulani Maseko was murdered in front of his family, his widow continues to face threats as calls for justice go ignored

Today marks one year since the murder of Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko. The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) and the Right2Protest Project (R2P) at the University of the Witwatersrand note with deep concern that there has been no independent investigation into his death, despite numerous calls to do so. Instead, we are alarmed by reports that Mr Maseko’s widow, Tanele Maseko, is facing threats on her life following her calls for justice.

One year ago, the southern African region was shocked by the news that Thulani Maseko had been assassinated in front of his family. Mr Maseko was a prominent human rights lawyer from Swaziland, who for many years faced intimidation for speaking out against government corruption and trying to promote democracy and a culture of social justice. Mr Maseko faced intimidation and arrest numerous times while advocating for his clients’ rights to access justice and freedom of expression.

Following his murder, CALS and R2P joined the global call for an independent investigation into the murder of Thulani Maseko, with over fifty organisations signing our open letter. We further called upon the government of South Africa to co-ordinate a response to the attacks and killings of activists and human rights defenders in the SADC region more generally. Mr Maseko’s death is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident but rather part of a pattern where those who speak out to defend their community’s rights are under threat. More information on the nature of activist victimisation in the region is available in the second edition of Victimisation Experiences of Activists in South Africa.

One year on, we are deeply concerned that there has been no independent investigation into Maseko’s murder and no progress made on protecting activists and human rights defenders on the continent. Instead, Mr Maseko’s widow, Tanele Maseko, has faced threats following her calls for a thorough and independent investigation into her husband’s brutal murder. The Swazi government has publicly insisted that Ms Maseko’s calls “should not be tolerated at [sic] any platform” and accuses her of tampering with evidence. Ms Maseko has since been forced into hiding, a common pattern for activists and their families when under threat.    

“The lack of an independent investigation does not only mean there is no justice or accountability for the murder of Thulani Maseko,” says Busisiwe Kamolane-Kgadima, Deputy Director at CALS. “It also means that all activists and human rights defenders are unprotected and thus more open to threats, intimidation and attack. We call on the South African government, once again, to lead a response to these attacks and ensure activists are able to express themselves without reprisal.”

“We condemn the recent Swazi government’s statement which seeks to intimidate Tanele Maseko and her family," says Omhle Ntshingila, project co-ordinator at R2P. "We call on the international community to continue showing their solidarity to all exiled Swazi activists and those who remain in the nation mobilising under harsh human rights conditions.”

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