Africa

CRACKDOWN CONCERNS

Botswana opposition accuses government of ‘pure harassment’ after detention by state security officials

Botswana opposition accuses government of ‘pure harassment’ after detention by state security officials
There are fears that media freedoms are deteriorating in Botswana ahead of next year's elections. (Photo: Pixabay)

In the build-up to Botswana’s elections next year, the country is witnessing an increase in harassment and intimidation and the deterioration of media freedom. Over the past 10 days, three opposition party leaders and two senior journalists have been detained, but with no formal charges being laid.

Two senior journalists and three opposition party leaders have been detained by the Botswana Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) in Gaborone over the past 10 days. 

Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) spokesperson Lawrence Ookeditse, acting chairperson Lazarus Lekgoanyana, and Dinah Monte, the party’s constituency secretary for Gaborone South, were detained for varying durations between 12 July and 16 July.

Ookeditse was held for just more than 48 hours, and the other two for about four or five hours.

Two senior journalists – Ryder Gabathuse, editor of national newspaper Mmegi, and Innocent Selatlhwa, a senior reporter at the paper – were detained on Thursday 20 July. They were not charged and, according to the DIS, they have been released.

Mmegi also posted online that the journalists had been released “from DIS custody without charges”.

Highly classified memo

The three opposition leaders were accused of illegally leaking and distributing a highly classified memo from the DIS unit, but no formal charges were laid against them. 

The BPF members were arrested in various locations around Gaborone and their phones confiscated. Ookeditse told Daily Maverick that the DIS members came to his property and accused him of leaking the DIS memo, which he admitted to having seen, but only on social media, and that he had no idea where it came from. 

Botswana electioncrackdown

Lawrence Ookeditse, BFP spokesperson (Photo: Supplied)

According to Ookeditse, the alleged highly confidential memo had already spread like a wildfire in Botswana social media circles when he first saw it and he knew nothing about its origin. Ookeditse said the DIS members harassed him, confiscated his phones and detained him on 12 July without laying any formal charges.

On Saturday, 15 July, Monte and Lekgoanyana were also detained briefly by the DIS. 

Ookeditse and Lekgoanyana’s phones are still confiscated and restrictions have been imposed on them. 

 

Lazarus Lekgoanyana, acting chairperson of the BPF (Photo: Supplied)

‘It is unheard of in Botswana’

Prof David Sebudubudu, a political science academic at the University of University, says “political detention by nature is a worrying factor and concern to any democratic country in the world, and it is something unheard of in Botswana” until a few years ago. 

By law, every suspect or detainee must be formally charged within 48 hours. 

Sebudubudu said it is clear the detentions were intended to harass and intimidate anyone who crosses the line and is critical of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).

The BPF Secretariat statement issued a statement condemning the detention of its members, describing it as a “pure harassment and intimidation tactic” by the government. 

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Botswana) condemned the arrests of the journalists: “As much it respects the work of the DIS and other state security agents, it cautions against the abuse of office by these agents as [it] paints a picture of press freedom being trampled upon.” 

Sebudubudu added that the arrest of the two journalists is a suppression of media freedom and in general media freedom is deteriorating in Botswana. 

BDP secretary-general Kavis Kario told Daily Maverick that his party “believes in the rule of law and the human rights enshrined in the constitution which apply to every citizen of Botswana, but they will not allow anyone to undermine the rule of law under the pretext of rights”. 

According to Cavis, security agencies have a duty to safeguard and mitigate any security risk and a right to execute their duties without interference. 

‘Execution of law’

He denied that the three BPF leaders and Mmegi journalists were detained, saying that they were only called in for questioning to give clarity on issues raised against them and they were later released. “Therefore, we don’t call those detention but execution of law by the DIS.” 

Ookeditse claimed the detentions were a political ploy to target leaders of the fastest-growing opposition parties in Botswana. 

He said that the BPF had embarrassed the BDP after contesting a by-election in alliance with the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and winning the Moselewapula and Serowe polling districts in 2019. The UDC alliance won with 339 votes, marginally ahead of the Botswana Congress Party with 334. The BDP finished last with 110 votes. 

The BDP was established in 1962 by the founding father of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, when the country was still called Bechuanaland. Bechuanaland gained independence in 1965 under an elected BDP government with Khama as prime minister. In 1966 the country became the Republic of Botswana with Khama as its first president. 

The BPF, a populist political party, was formed in July 2019 by former BDP members who split from the ruling party because of a high-profile rivalry between former president Ian Khama and the incumbent President Mokgweetsi Masisi. 

Ian Khama is a patron of the BPF, and is now exiled in South Africa.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Botswana takes flak over its ‘persecution’ of former president Ian Khama

Khama told Daily Maverick that Botswana should brace itself for more political detentions as the national elections in 2024 draw near. “This is a sign the ruling party sees that it might lose the elections; therefore, it has to harass and intimidate anyone who is supposedly seen as an opponent.” 

Khama fled Botswana to South Africa last year, after being accused of a plot to topple Masisi, and then later, charged with illegal possession of weapons. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Joburg court rejects Ian Khama’s pleas to be allowed to argue against being arrested pending extradition

Botswana has always been considered as a beacon of hope on the African continent. It has been known for its peaceful political transitions and democratic maturity as well as for advocating for clean governance and its stance against corruption. DM 

 

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Oh, dear, Dear Botswana and another one bites the dust. Fear not! We in SA are ahead of you; we don’t just detain on spurious charges; we assassinate whistleblowers in full view of their helpless families and call this an accountable democracy. You have a way to go, yet Botswana but no doubt you’ll join us soon.

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