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Rule of law under threat - Amnesty International

[Swaziland] DPP, Lincoln Ng'arua.
Director of Public Prosecutions Lincoln Ng'arua (IRIN)

The Swazi government's 'vendetta' against its foreign-born Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Lincoln Ng'arua over his pursuance of sedition charges against the attorney-general has alarmed local and international legal communities.

"I have been threatened, and I am in fear for my life," Ng'arua, a Kenyan, told reporters as the heat increased on him to leave the country.

Ng'arua held an impromptu press conference in a fifth floor hallway at the Ministry of Justice building where on Wednesday he and his staff found themselves locked out of their offices. On Thursday, the department's telephone line had been disconnected and the government was running adverts seeking candidates for a new DPP.

"We are shocked that a DPP could be locked out of his office," Paul Shibulane, president of the Law Society, told IRIN.

Swaziland's legal fraternity sees the issue not as one between rival personalities – Ng'arua and the attorney-general and palace insider, Phesheya Dlamini, were known to disagree – but as a matter of the rule of law.

Last week, Ng'arua was called to a midnight meeting of cabinet ministers and senior palace advisors in which the prosecutor was reportedly told to drop charges against the attorney-general or be fired.

"Ng'arua informed me there had been intimations of physical harm," a senior diplomat told IRIN.

Ng'arua had charged Dlamini with defeating the ends of justice and contempt of court for ordering three high court judges to dismiss the case of a mother suing the palace for the return of her daughter who was allegedly abducted to become King Mswati III's tenth wife, or they would be fired.

Ng'arua added the sedition charge because of worldwide condemnation of the attorney-general's ultimatum, which the DPP said "caused the international legal fraternity, the public and the international community at large to hold and to view with contempt or hatred the government of Swaziland".

Dlamini contended he was acting on orders from the kingdom's highest authorities. The DPP responded to the palace's alleged ultimatum by writing to the justice minister saying his position as chief prosecutor was now untenable, and he was resigning as soon as the government negotiated his terminal benefits.

In a statement this week, Amnesty International noted the palace had earlier attempted to oust Chief Justice Stanley Sapire when he found opposition leader Mario Masuku innocent of sedition in August. This week the government ran an an advert seeking a replacement for him, too.

"By stopping the proceedings against the attorney-general for his alleged abuse of power, the government is also indirectly renewing its attack against the judiciary. These acts of harassment and interference with the work of the DPP by Swazi authorities violate a key injunction in the United Nations 1990 guidelines on the role of prosecutors," Amnesty said.

Ng'arua appeared defiant at Mbabane Magistrates Court this week, where he pressed for a continuation of the case against the attorney-general, who has thus far eluded police assigned to deliver a summons ordering him to appear in court.

Magistrate Loraine Hlope denied the DPP's request to issue a bench warrant to compel Dlamini to appear and face the charges against him. She said the court clerk's job was to issue summons, even though the summons were being ignored. Ng'arua said he would appeal the decision to the High Court.

Legal observers said they felt the case against Dlamini would die once Ng'arua was booted out of the country, but the damage to the already fragile façade of judicial independence in Swaziland would remain.

"The palace is always saying the judicial system is free in this country. King Mswati said last week he never interferes with judges. His henchmen show no such restraint. As long as the courts perform the way the palace likes, they are 'free'. But officials like the chief justice or the DPP are not allowed to deviate from the palace agenda by following the law," a lawyer told IRIN on condition of anonymity.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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