The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) NGO Working Group, comprising Botswana Council of NGOs (BOCONGO), DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights, Kuru Family of Organisations, Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo) and MISA – Botswana Chapter and Rainbow Identity Association (RIA) is concerned about the current state of Freedom of Information and Press Freedom in Botswana.
On 7 May, 2015, the UPR NGO Working Group learnt of the arrest of staff members and lawyer of the private newspaper the Botswana Gazette.
Officials from the Botswana anti-corruption institution, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), raided the Botswana Gazette offices and arrested its Managing Editor (Shike Olsen), Editor (Lawrence Seretse), one of its journalists (Innocent Selatlhwa) and the paper’s lawyer (Joao Salbany). (Mail and Guardian online: http://m.mg.co.za/article/2015-05-07-botswana-gazette-journalists-arrested-over-story#.VUtxLGPHUSI.twitter. Accessed 7 May, 2015). They were all released from custody on 7 May, 2015. Attorney Unoda Mack represents the Botswana Gazzette. Parliamentary Leader of the Opposition, Attorney Duma Boko, represents Joao Salbany ( Mmegi. Vol. 32 No. 69. 8 May 2015, pg 4).
The search warrant and arrest came after the newspaper published a story which linked a deported Zambian national, Jerry Chitube, to illegal activities for the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) and the ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The DISS has denied working with Chitube, but the arrested parties were arrested for “interfering with DCEC investigations”.
The DCEC allegedly explained to the Editor of the Botswana Gazette that “they have published a story which may compromise their investigation” (Mail and Guardian online: http://m.mg.co.za/article/2015-05-07-botswana-gazette-journalists-arrested-over-story#.VUtxLGPHUSI.twitter. Accessed 7 May 2015).
In October 2014, the Editor of the Sunday Standard newspaper, Outsa Mokone, was arrested and charged with sedition for publishing a story by one of his journalists, Edgar Tsimane. These recent arrests of journalists and media practitioners are of great concern. They raise serious questions about the state of Freedom of Information and Press Freedom in the country.
Section 12 of the Botswana Constitution includes, “freedom to receive ... information ... freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference”.
This forms part of the right to Freedom of Expression. In order for this right to be respected and protected, it is necessary for journalists, media practitioners and all stakeholders to be able to exercise these rights and responsibilities in an enabling environment.
The UPR NGO Working Group condemns the arrests of journalists and media practitioners who are responsibly exercising their right to Freedom of Information and Press Freedom.
The UPR NGO Working Group also calls upon the Government of Botswana not to allow this freedom to be infringed upon through unnecessary arrests and intimidation of those exercising these freedoms.
8 May, 2015