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Maseko killed by ‘demented enemies of justice’, independent inquiry demanded

A flood of shocked, sometimes angry, sometimes despairing, often challenging, responses has followed the murder of Eswatini human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, last weekend. From embassies to human rights defenders in remote parts of the continent, all have paid tribute to this extraordinary man and his dedication to the task of ensuring justice and democracy for the people of his home country.

The law society of Namibia (LSN) may have encapsulated the outrage of the democratic community in Southern Africa when it angrily described the killers of Eswatini human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, as ‘demented enemies of justice’.

The LSN was reacting to the assassination-style murder of Maseko on the evening of 21 January. He was shot through the window of his home outside the capital of Eswatini.

Magistrate stages obscene event as part of rape case; high court orders a retrial

A magistrate in Malawi, who presided over a sordid sexual scene in his office, has been taken to task by a high court judge. Judge Zione Ntaba ordered that the rape trial being heard by the magistrate, and of which the office scene had ostensibly formed part, should start again under a different presiding officer. The behaviour of the initial magistrate has also been reported to the judicial service commission.

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When the parent of a girl who alleged she had been raped by 22-year-old Yusuf Willy went to the high court in Malawi to complain about what had happened in the magistrate’s court trial, it prompted a high court review of events at the earlier hearing.

Judge Zione Ntaba examined the file on the matter, and what she found makes for alarming reading.

Court says accused in double witchcraft murder a ‘suitable candidate’ for death penalty, imposes lesser sentence because of sincere beliefs

The high court in Zimbabwe has been grappling with the question of how to deal with witchcraft-related murder, and the role that such beliefs should play in a trial. It’s an on-going issue for courts in a number of African countries, and in this case, the presiding judge, Lucy Mungwari, looked at a variety of approaches by other courts. The case she was considering was particularly horrific, as the accused murdered his own father and his aunt, both of whom were well over 80 years old. 

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The presiding judge in this case, Lucy Mungwari, said she agreed that African communities generally embraced traditional healers and that there was a persistent belief in witchcraft. The ‘witches’ in such matters were seen not benign, however, but were regarded as ‘irredeemably wicked’ by their communities.

Claiming potential conflict, Malawi Law Society wants its members barred from joining specialist law bodies

Malawi’s legal community is braced for a major court battle between the Malawi Law Society (MLS) – it bills itself as ‘the voice of the legal profession in Malawi’ – and two other professional legal bodies, the Corporate Lawyers Association (CLA) and the Commercial Bar Association (CBA). This follows an attempt by the MLS to have the court prevent MLS members from joining the ‘objects and business’ of the CLA and the CBA.

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The Malawi Law Society has tried to persuade the high court to declare that members of the society are not legally allowed to participate in the ‘objects and business’ of the CLA and the CBA.

New journal on democracy, governance and human rights for Zimbabwe

A new, scholarly journal focused on democracy, governance and human rights in Zimbabwe, has just published its first edition online. Coordinator of the journal, Musa Kika, says the journal is partly a response to Zimbabwe’s lack of scholarly publications dealing with legal and other issues, and that this is a lack that the judiciary itself has commented on. The first edition, featuring five articles focused on elections, election practices and disputes, is particularly timely given that a general election is expected to be held in Zimbabwe by mid-year.

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The journal, set to come out annually, focuses for its first edition on issues related to elections and contests about elections. It’s a particularly timely focus, given that judges and members of the legal profession, regionally and internationally, are increasingly asked to play a significant role during preparations for polling, as well as monitoring actual elections and assessing to what extent they were free and fair.

Free speech gets a huge boost in Uganda

A key freedom of expression law, used in Uganda to arrest, detain and hamper the work of journalists, along with other writers and political activists, has been declared unconstitutional by that country’s constitutional court. Five judges held that the law, dealing with ‘computer misuse’, imposed curbs that were incompatible with the constitution. The court said that prosecuting people for the content of their communication amounted to a violation of what ‘falls within guarantees of freedom of expression in a democratic society’.

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In a decision likely to have an enormous impact on freedom of expression in Uganda as well as on constitutionalism in that country more generally, five judges have held a key section of a pervasive law on ‘computer misuse’ to be invalid.

Tough sentences follow terrorism convictions by Tanzanian court

Six men, including three from the same family, have been convicted of terrorism by the high court in Tanzania and sentenced to a total of 50 years each. The prosecution said the six were members of a larger group that had met in the Tunduru district, as part of a conspiracy to start a religious war linked to Al-Shabaab. They planned to convince young people to join in the overthrow of the government and establish an Islamic state.

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The six men were tried, convicted and sentenced in the corruption and economic crimes division of the Tanzanian high court, sitting at Songea. Judge Yose Mlambina, who presided in the trial, began his 100-page judgment with an extensive review of what constituted terrorism and the legal and other difficulties involved in defining terrorism.

Uganda’s constitutional court finds 16 high court two-year, acting appointments unconstitutional

When Uganda’s judicial service commission (JSC) announced earlier this year, that 16 high court judges had been appointed – for a two-year acting stint – it prompted two legal academics to bring a petition challenging the constitutionality of these appointments. Now the country’s constitutional court has given its decision: by four to one, the court ruled that the appointments were unconstitutional, and gave the JSC six months to rectify the situation.

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Two lecturers at Makerere University law school have won what they will surely regard as a significant victory for constitutionalism in the appointment of judges. Busingye Kabumba and Andrew Karamagi brought their application in reaction to an announcement by the judicial service commission (JSC), issued in May, to the effect that 16 high court judges had been appointed in an acting capacity for a two-year term.

Judges applaud African states’ efforts in hosting refugees, suggest much work remains to be done

At a recent meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, the Africa Chapter of the International Association of Refugee and Migration Judges (IARMJ) applauded the solidarity and efforts of many African states in hosting refugees. Their work in finding collective solutions for the situation of refugees, sometimes under the auspices of the African Union, was also appreciated. The judges have now issued a formal declaration, covering a wide range of issues related to refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people.

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At its latest meeting in Arusha, the African Chapter of the International Association of Refugee and Migration Judges (IARMJ) urged African states, not yet part to key conventions and protocols relating to the status of refugees and specific refugee problems in Africa, to accede to these instruments.

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