- Media in Swaziland are facing a possible ban on covering a high profile murder trial against the country's first-ever suspected serial killer. A Swazi court is to look into the demand by the alleged killer of 34 women to ban media reports of his trial, which has generated a massive interest in the small kingdom.
Yesterday, a lawyer representing a suspected serial killer asked the Swaziland High Court to ban media coverage of the historic case. The suspect, David Simelane, is charged with murdering 34 women between 1999 and 2001. His state appointed and paid lawyer Lucky Howe expressed dissatisfaction with the media reports on the case. He said the quality of reports and the impressions they give created some "difficulties for the case".
Mr Howe argued that the court was not a public place and that the media were not professional. Instead, he said, Swazi media were being irresponsible in their manner of reporting on the case. The national press however is strongly restricted by draconic media laws and forced to exert self-censorship.
Acting Chief Justice Jacobus Annandale, who is presiding over the matter, said it was the court's view that criminal proceedings were in the public interest and that freedom of the press and expression should be upheld. The judge then ruled that Mr Howe's application would be held in abeyance to allow the media to instruct an attorney to argue on their behalf. The court will hear the arguments later today.
The Windhoek-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) today was "alerted" by the possible ban on coverage of the murder case by the Swazi press, given the wide public interest in the exceptional trial.
The case naturally has generated a lot of interest in Swaziland. It is the first case of its kind. In particular Swazi women have been shocked by the statements made by the suspect, motivated by a deep anger towards women in general.
The suspect claimed in a statement before a magistrate that he killed the women in revenge. He said that a few years ago he was falsely accused of rape by a woman and was jailed. After his jail term he vowed to take revenge by killing any woman he came across.
He allegedly strangled and stabbed his victims and threw their bodies in forests around the country. The victims included babies. The skeletons of all 34 victims were discovered in 2001 in Malkerns and other areas around Swaziland.
Several of the murdered women had gone missing for one year, some unreported by their families. They were only identified after Mr Simelane led police to their graves after he was arrested in 2001. The case has led to a public discussion about the low status of women in the kingdom.
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