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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 15:11 GMT
Swazi sedition trial collapses
Mario Masuku behind prison guard
The diabetic Masuku is back in prison
By Bhekie Matsebula in Mbabane

The trial of jailed Swaziland's opposition leader, Mario Masuku, has collapsed after it emerged that the presiding judge, Josiah Matsebula, was no longer legally employed.

Look how confused your government is

Mario Masuku

A shocked Mr Masuku was told that the decision to discontinue the case was made after it was revealed that Judge Matsebula's contract had expired on 31 December last year and had not been extended.

When the trial began on Monday, he pleaded not guilty to charges of sedition, relating to comments he made at a political rally in November 2000.

If found guilty, he faces 20 years in prison.

As he was led away back to the Matsapha maximum security prison where he is being detained, the diabetic Mr Masuku expressed his anger to the court.

"Look how confused your government is. How can they do this?"

Retirement age

His lawyer, Piet Ebersohn, who was also unaware of the doubts over the presiding judge, called on the Swaziland Government to take such an important matter seriously.

King Mswati III
King set judges' retirement age at 65 years

"If I had known I would not have let him hear the matter at all. Now it should be up to us lawyers and everybody to march to the prime minister and protest about this inefficiency", he said.

After initially ordering the 70-year-old Judge Matsebula to retire, King Mswati III had apparently changed his mind but no legal document to this effect could be found.

However, he was paid as normal in January.

A decree issued by the Swazi king last May, reduced the judges' retiring age from 75 to 65 years.

Mr Masuku's case was initially referred to another judge, Justice Thomas Masuku, who declined to take it because he is the defendant's half-brother.

However he set a date for a bail application, to be heard on 15 February.

See also:

04 Feb 02 | Africa
Swazi sedition trial begins
04 Feb 02 | Africa
Standing up to Swaziland's king
04 Dec 01 | Africa
Profile: Troubled King Mswati
12 Dec 01 | Africa
Concern for jailed Swazi leader
26 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Swaziland
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