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Botswana: "Sunday Standard" editor arrested, colleague flees following threats

MISA Botswana was shocked to learn that Sunday Standard editor, Mr Outsa Mokone, was arrested and detained by the Botswana Police Service on 8 September 2014. The warrant of arrest relates to a possible charge of “seditious intention” contrary to section 50(1) as read with section 51(1) C of the Penal Code of Botswana.

The Chief Magistrate for Gaborone Administrative District issued a warrant for Mr Mokone's arrest on 2 September 2014. After the arrest and subsequent detention at Broadhurst Police station, Mr Mokone's lawyers issued an urgent application to the High Court. MISA Botswana was pleased to learn the application was successful and High Court Judge, Justice Modiri Letsididi ordered Mr Mokone be immediately released from detention on 9 September 2014.

Justice Modiri Letsididi ordered the Commissioner of Police, represented in this case by the Attorney General of Botswana, Dr Attaliah Molokomme, to not “execute and implement the warrant of arrest referred to above” and “not apply for any further warrants of arrest against the applicant based on facts similar in nature to those founding the warrants aforesaid pending finalisation of this application”.

MISA Botswana is gravely concerned about this attempt to intimidate and impede the work of the Sunday Standard, particularly as another journalist of the Sunday Standard, Mr Edgar Tsimane has also been threatened by the State in connection to an article he wrote. Tsimane fled Botswana in fear of his safety and sought asylum in neighbouring South Africa.

It is important to note, this is probably the first time Botswana's sedition laws have been used against a journalist. MISA Botswana has stated in the past, that we classify sedition and other laws criminalising journalists' work as an impediment to the operation of a free media in a democracy. We do not believe section 50 (1) of the Penal Code applies to the news article Mr Mokone suspects motivated his arrest and detention. The article, authored by Mr Tsimane, cannot by any stretch of imagination be said to fall within the publications envisaged under section 50 of the Penal Code. This section cannot be used to silence those who are critical of the President of Botswana.

MISA Botswana supports Mr Mokone's application to the High Court to strike down sections 50 and 51 of the Penal Code, because these sections violate the fundamental right to freedom of expression enshrined in Botswana's Constitution.

MISA Botswana condemns the arrest and detention of Mokone and the intimidation of Tsimane as an affront on media freedom and freedom of expression. We urge the High Court to ensure the fundamental and constitutional rights to access information and freedom of expression are upheld and respected.

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