Teetering on the brink of lawlessness

Sometimes we act as if there is no tomorrow. When we like something we tend to care less about future consequences.

Government has gone wild.

But because we are in the honeymoon stage of a supposedly new administration, the bride’s gown cannot be soiled.

Today, in this shining example of democracy, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) through a henchman masquerading as head of intelligence reaches into every level of our lives. It controls, bullies and brags, beating and blustering as it feeds without restraint on the energy of the nation. The non-reaction to Peter Magosi’s illicit activities is troubling.

The henchman has cut himself a bogeyman – a looming figure who doesn’t want to be missed in any headline. If he is not alarmist, he is leaking information to the media. When not doubling as bodyguard, the chief o’ lies is king propagandist in a war that only he and the gullible believe. The nature of the DIS has changed significantly. Society has however been diverted by the changes of faces and in the process permitted their attention to be diverted from the changing problem of the DIS itself.

To the extent that society continues to be so diverted, the henchman has a free hand in teetering the country on the brink of lawlessness and in a continuum of development towards despotism. Those who profess an interest in liberty need to turn away from illusions and shadows and look at the actual and concrete facts of government here and around the world.

It is only in a banana republic that one finds a civil servant who mediates in factional tensions of political parties. It is on record that Magosi has at some point tried to mediate between Presidents Mokgweetsi Masisi and predecessor Ian Khama amongst others. If he is not interfering in politics he is chiding politicians. In March the henchman shocked many when he breached financial confidentiality saying, ‘as the DIS our only interest is for him (Guma Moyo) to tell us what he used the P30 million that he took from different banks for. It was not used for its purpose’.

When dismissing Hon Guma Moyo’s assassination claims Magosi is quoted as saying, ‘he is the one to tell us the alleged perpetrators otherwise he is lying. If he fails to mention the names of the perpetrators he is lying’. In a stark case of double standards, Magosi is quick to label Moyo a liar in the absence of alleged perpetrators when he up to now has not disclosed the names of those behind President Masisi assassination.

To his credit, Isaac Kgosi never meddled in factional wars.

The DIS is effectively running the state. Tax collector Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) is busiest in a schedule that seems to originate from the henchman’s office. Just this week, Botswana Police Services continued on this downward spiral of lawlessness raiding Tsaone Basimanebotlhe’s pristine home and walking away with her phone. Raiding journalists has chilling effect on media freedom.

This troubling trend emerged in February 2019 with the detention of Mmegi editor, Oarabile Mosikare in the hopeless case in which the DIS wants former spy chief Isaac Kgosi charged for allegedly disclosing identities of DIS officers.

This display of power that finds common place in authoritarian regimes is horrifying. The henchman’s limited aptitude disables him to know that. The pursuit of the media practitioners is an example of limitless powers which exist with no oversight, and when that happens the system will be ripe for abuse of freedom of expression. What is even more worrying is the fact that it is a justice of the peace who actually issued the search warrant.

Magistrates should be extremely cautious when a search warrant is aimed at a journalist or media outlet. Police searches of journalists’ homes and work should happen rarely, in compelling circumstances. These should be conducted with the strictest regard for rule of law, which protects journalist’s rights to shield their sources.

Section 51 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Acts directs police services with powers to search. That would explain why BPS was dragged into the dead horse messy affairs of the DIS. Society needs to challenge the wasteful decision to apply for the warrant; the lawfulness of the application for the warrant; the lawfulness of issuing the warrant and the lawfulness of the search itself.

In a country where there isn’t Freedom of Information Act, journalists look to the protection of the freedom of expression which enshrines a freedom to receive information. A journalist should not be forced to disclose a source’s identity unless it is determined that public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in protection of sources. In the case of Basimanebotlhe and Mosikare, these pictures were already in public domain. Will finding the said pictures in Basimanebotlhe’s phone provide reasonable grounds that measure to afford evidence of the commission of a crime?

The police failed their responsibility badly with this DIS backed raid on a journalist. The carelessness about processes essential to their work is by no means their mistake, but that of the chief instructor from the DIS. And while the failures may look trivial, their consequences can be far reaching.

The silly ‘DIS agents pictures’ case against Isaac Kgosi should be directed to the editor and publishers of Mmegi, and not the journalist. In any case, Basimanebotlhe has had nothing to do with this story. The buck stops with the editor. The decision by law enforcement agents to pursue a junior officer further magnifies ineptitude at DIS. 

Law is not democracy and democracy is not law. The raid on Basimanebotlhe should be a red flag for watchdogs. It has an impact on all news media and whistle blowers. At the heart of the matter is the public’s right to receive information about the actions of people in positions of authority. Confidential sources used in journalism deserve legal protection.

Sources in journalism are very sacred and cannot be touched. They are the core of the journalism profession. Just as lawyers and health professionals are guided by ethics and so are journalists. Throwing these ethics outside the window undermines journalism.

The reluctance by BOMAWU to speedily condemn the actions of the security cluster is unsurprising. The media practitioners union should be at the forefront of duty of candour and the protection of journalists and their sources. According to media colleagues, the partisan leadership of the union is politically compromised in this matter and tongue tied as it gets penning guidance from the same government it ought to be a watchdog over. The media should be for the governed and not the governors.

President Masisi has on several occasions called for objective and responsible reporting. In one engagement session following an external trip, President Masisi encouraged the media to report without fear. If that is the position of the leadership, who then bequeathed Magosi with expansive powers to spy and go after journalists and their sources with such aggression.

Where does the henchman get the liver for this heavy-handed approach?

Beneath the surface is a pretext to investigate reporters who have done numerous stories in the past that have embarrassed the government of the day.

That is lawlessness!

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