Jan. 30, 2023 (GIN) — Hundreds of mourners around the world paid tribute to a renowned human rights activist brazenly shot dead in front of his wife and two children at their home in Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, a week ago.
His murder drew widespread condemnation, including from the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and political activists in Eswatini, a landlocked nation in southern Africa.
Kenya human rights defenders held a vigil in Nairobi in solidarity with family of the assassinated lawyer and rights defender #JusticeForThulani. Amnesty International called for a proper investigation. Maseko was reportedly shot twice through the window of his home, Amnesty said.
Mr. Maseko’s widow, Tanele Maseko, described the horror of sitting in their living room with her husband and their sons, ages 10 and 6, on a recent Saturday evening when he was shot, reported John Eligon of the NY Times.
“That night felt like my chest had been opened and my heart ripped apart,” she said, her face covered by a black veil.
She explained that Mr. Maseko had refused to go into exile like other pro-democracy leaders, once telling her, “If they want me, they know where to find me, here at home.”
Mr. Maseko, the youngest of eight children, was born in Bhunya, in the western part of the country. After obtaining a law degree from the University of Swaziland, he studied international law at the American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C.. He established his own law practice in Eswatini and organized legal groups focusing on democracy and human rights.
In 2014, Mr. Maseko and a prominent Swazi journalist were sentenced to two years in prison after publishing articles criticizing the country’s judiciary as lacking independence. They were released the next year after the Supreme Court overturned their convictions.
Maseko had taken a case to court against King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, over his decision to rename the country Eswatini by decree.
Hours before Maseko was murdered, King Mswati criticized activists pushing for reform, saying, “People should not shed tears and complain about mercenaries killing them.”
A longtime critic of King Mswati, Maseko knew his work was risky but persisted for many years. He described his situation as “caught between hope and fear.”
He wrote to President Obama from prison. Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., he asked for help from the U.S. government and generated unwelcome international media coverage for King Mswati.
“As one of the founding members of the Johannesburg-based SouthernDefenders, Maseko made an immense contribution to the advancement of justice and human rights not only in Eswatini but throughout the Southern Africa region,” wrote the Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture, formerly headed by Kofi Annan.
He carried out several fact-finding missions to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi where he reported on the deterioration of civic space in the region.
“Eswatini has lost a powerful voice for nonviolence and respect for human rights,” Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“We remain deeply concerned about continuing violence in Eswatini,” he added, “and we continue to urge the government of Eswatini to set a date for an inclusive national dialogue as soon as possible.”
At Saturday’s memorial service, Dessy Choumelova, the European Union ambassador to Eswatini, called Mr. Maseko’s killing an assassination. She said the government needed to carry out a transparent investigation to “identify and prosecute those responsible for this cowardly murder.”