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Botswana

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Last updated on 23.01.2018 at 15:04

Botswana-Overview

Conditions for civic activism in Botswana are healthy but narrowing. Citizens are free to form civil society organisations without undue interference from the state and to peacefully assemble and demonstrate in public.

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Concerns over the state's "aggressive and intolerant" attitude towards media

Concerns over the state's "aggressive and intolerant" attitude towards media

In October 2017, the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) expressed serious concerns over the situation for media in Botswana, claiming that the government has been "aggressive and intolerant" towards the sector.

Expression

According to a media report, in October 2017 the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) expressed serious concerns over the situation for media in Botswana, claiming that the government has been "aggressive and intolerant" towards the sector. In an interview with news24, MISA-Botswana spokesperson Modise Maphanyane pointed out that media freedom is protected in the constitution but that is not always reflected in reality. Maphanyane's statement related to a hearing at the Lobatse High Court in which the Attorney General sought to prohibit a private newspaper - Sunday Standard - from publishing information related to an investigation of the head of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security by the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crimes. The Sunday Standard subsequently filed a counter application with the Court, seeking a decision that section 44 of the Corruption and Economic Crime Act, which states that publishing information on an investigation without lawful authority or reasonable excuse is an offense, contravenes section 12 of the Constitution of Botswana, which guarantees freedom of expression. The judge dismissed the interlocutory application, stating that "the required evidence on the status of the investigations cannot conduce to prove or disprove the constitutionality of Section 44 and the requirements for a final interdict". 

Maphanyene of MISA Botswana further noted that: 

"For too long, Botswana has been regarded as an oasis of democracy in a desert. But that story has to change. Botswana is an unequal country. They are economic disparities and the government has been very aggressive against the media. The government has withheld advertisement with private media, forcing media houses to self-censoring".

Peaceful Assembly

From July to September 2017, women throughout Botswana mobilised under the "Right to Wear What I Want" campaign and movement. The movement emerged after the assault of a woman wearing a miniskirt was captured on video and went viral. It brought attention to the pervasive issue of gender-based violence in the country through peaceful marches organised in several cities that drew hundreds of people. 

Association

Freedom of association is coming under threat in Botswana due to the overreach of the state security agency, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). Civil society groups in Botswana are critical of DISS’ intrusive intelligence methods that undermine basic rights and create a climate of fear.

Freedom of association is coming under threat in Botswana due to the overreach of the state security agency, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). Civil society groups in Botswana are critical of DISS’ intrusive intelligence methods that undermine basic rights and create a climate of fear. Trade unions, political parties and media organisations all complained – particularly in the run-up to October 2014 elections – about intrusion into their affairs.Freedom of association received a boost in November 2014 following a High Court ruling ordering government to register The Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), an NGO promoting the rights of sexual minorities. The court said government’s refusal to register LEGABIBO was unlawful because it ‘violated the applicants’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly’. Not backing down, the government has subsequently appealed this ruling to the Court of Appeal.


Peaceful Assembly

While freedom of assembly is largely respected in Botswana, groups with opposing views have noted government interference. For example, the government prevented some organisations from entering the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and broke up demonstrations aimed at raising awareness about the indigenous residents of that area.

While freedom of assembly is largely respected in Botswana, groups with opposing views have noted government interference. For example, the government prevented some organisations from entering the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and broke up demonstrations aimed at raising awareness about the indigenous residents of that area. Civil society groups have also exercised their right to assemble and communicate views about human rights abuses taking place internationally. Recent protests aimed at raising awareness on abuses in Zimbabwe and the Gaza Strip proceeded without hindrance, with the relevant ministers accepting petitions. However, strikes by civil servants are generally frowned upon by the government.


Expression

Despite constitutional protections, free speech is under threat in Botswana following a series of attacks on critical media. In January 2015 the website of prominent daily Mmegi was hacked and 12 years of archives deleted.

Despite constitutional protections, free speech is under threat in Botswana following a series of attacks on critical media. In January 2015 the website of prominent daily Mmegi was hacked and 12 years of archives deleted. The attack allegedly originated from the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). In May 2015, police raided the offices of the Botswana Gazette and arrested three staff members. The newspaper had published an article that accused the intelligence services of being involved in corrupt deals with a Zambian national. The president told a gathering in 2013 that government would be willing to sponsor defamation cases of cabinet ministers against the media. There is no access to information law in Botswana. Civil society organisations however have worked with opposition parties to draft a Freedom of Information Bill which remains pending due to lack of political will. In a move seemingly designed to increase pressure on private media, government authorities allegedly withdrew their advertising revenue to these outlets.