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Let’s be sensitive to the rights of suspects

The degree of hypocrisy that pervades public discourse is astounding. In fact, it is shameful.

A significant section of the nation is wailing over the rights of suspects just because this time around, a man clothed with the trappings of wealth and elitism has been publicly arrested. I will not give an opinion on whether or not the arrest was proper.

Frankly, I saw nothing remiss in the manner and procedure of arrest. I could be wrong. It is only my opinion. My heart simply bled for him, the wife and the children.

Not so long ago, the Botswana Police were running a reality TV show on poor suspects. It was a hit series that the police could well have commercially packaged.  We all loved it.

“Boots”, the police dog, became a celebrity dog. Nunu Lesetedi became a celebrity cop. I remember appearing on a BTV programme with Rre Lesetedi commending the Police for a job well done and asking amongst others, that due sensitivity be given to the rights of suspects.

I remember, Thebeyame Ramoroka quizzing Rre Lesetedi on claims by some that the programme targeted poor people only.

But no one gave a hoot about the manner of arrest when BTV cameras entered the homes and peered into every inch of living space. Rights were not an issue.

Yes, precisely because the suspects were poor. In fact, the nation found it amusing, and educational.  For the many times I have stepped out into the open to agitate for the rights of suspects, I have been visited with insults and ridicule. I have even been called an attention seeker and celebrity lawyer. Well, as if I cared.

Fast forward to now. A public personality clothed with the trappings of power is arrested while arriving at an airport. By the way, I have defended many people who were arrested at the same place alighting from flights. One was separated from his infant son who was given to a friend who arranged for it to be handed it to its mother.

He was arrested at the exact place we saw in the video clips the other day.

Today, hell broke loose. Political hypocrisy laid waste all remembrance and common sense and the very avid followers of Rre Lesetedi’s reality show and haters of every suspect, become ardent objectors to its example. But principle cannot be situational. Similarly circumstanced people must be treated similarly. It cannot be acceptable to demand that a different set of rules must apply when it comes to our own and that another must apply when it is theirs.

When all is said and done, the treatment of suspects must be constitutional and dignified. Perhaps that’s where the debate should have been; whether the arrest we saw was or was not constitutional. All

I heard was New Jerusalem Vs CAVA. Shame.

I am unqualified to make conclusive judgement on whether Rre Kgosi’s rights have been violated. I trust the legal team he chooses, to look into the question. What I do say is that we must all move towards a time when we are universally sensitive to the rights of suspects whoever they may be.

True, they are certainly not a category that readily commends itself to public sympathy. But they are constitutional subjects though, and if we respect our Constitution, we will respect their rights.

There is need for more police training on this area because what we often see, is sad. Suspects get beaten up and tortured, they are deprived access to lawyers and sometimes the police will not disclose where they are kept. The first casualty, is their right to silence and the second is one against self incrimination.

I can recall going to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) to check on some clients once. When I arrived there, I was flatly told by a DCEC agent that access to them was not possible. I returned to the office to apply for a writ of habeas corpus and for bail. The suspects were rushed to the magistrates court the next day.

When I went to Gaborone West and to Tlokweng Police Stations where some had been kept by the DCEC, I was politely advised by the officers on duty that the DCEC did not permit for them to be seen. I later wrote the DCEC to confirm that they refused the suspects access to a lawyer. Sensing danger, they wrote back denying that they ever did, which was a shame.

At  the time it happened, I was with the wife of one of the suspects. Again, just over Christmas, a man was put in police cells in Mahalapye for more than 10 days without a charge. To the credit of the Mahalapye police, they allowed me to see him.

Sensing danger, they released him, and the marks of torture were still visible underneath his feet. Yes, he will be suing and so are my other clients.

I give these examples to urge for a greater consciousness as regards the rights of suspects and those under any form of detention. Respect for the rights of suspects is respect of our Constitution and for the legal traditions which guarantee them.

Let us remember that anyone can be a suspect and that these rights are meant for our common protection. You do not have to be a criminal, to be a suspect.

Chief On Friday



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