Recent Arrests Highlight Extent of Civil Society Repression in Swaziland

July 16, 2014

Government crackdowns on civil society groups have surged in recent years, an alarming trend impacting many Goldman Prize winners around the globe. 2010 Goldman Prize winner Thuli Makama, an environmental attorney from Swaziland, knows first-hand how difficult it is to effectively operate in a country where civil society is repressed. She stopped by the Goldman Prize office last month to update us on her recent work.

Thuli Makama was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2010 after winning a landmark case to include environmental NGO representation in the Swaziland Environment Authority, reinforcing the right to public participation in environmental decision making.

Since returning to Swaziland last summer after a year-long fellowship with Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) in Portland, Oregon, Makama has been working tirelessly to protect vulnerable communities and the environment through the Legal Assistance Center, an environmental law center that she founded.

Currently, she and her partners are working to bolster support for Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer who was arrested on charges of “contempt of court.” A magazine editor, who published a story Maseko wrote questioning the circumstances around the arrest of a government vehicle inspector and the impartiality of the Swazi justice system, was arrested with him.

The arrests have had a chilling effect on media in the country and is highly indicative of how compromised the country’s judiciary system has become. There is consensus among the public that the arrests are being used as a tool to intimidate other activists and keep them from speaking out against government officials.

Thuli and her colleagues have been working to “dull the weapon” of arrests by making sure Maseko’s family is taken care of and that his office is kept open while he is in jail. “We are trying to make being arrested not so scary after all,” Makama said.