Botswana Gazette journalists arrested over story

Editor of the Botswana Gazette, Lawrence Seretse. (Oxpeckers.org)

Editor of the Botswana Gazette, Lawrence Seretse. (Oxpeckers.org)

Officials from the Botswana corruption watchdog have raided the offices of the Botswana Gazette and arrested its manager, editor, journalist and lawyer in what appears to be a continuing effort by Botswana government to clamp down on the private press. 

The arrest comes eight months after the detention of the editor of the Sunday Standard, Outsa Mokone, under sedition charges, causing veteran journalist Edgar Tsimane to flee to South Africa, saying that he fears for his life. 

The Botswana Gazette’s managing editor Shike Olsen, its editor Lawrence Seretse, reporter Innocent Selatlhwa and the paper’s lawyer, Joao Salbany, are currently under arrest following a raid at the newspaper offices by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime under unclear circumstances.  

The search warrant and arrest comes after the newspaper published an investigative story that linked a deported Zambian national, Jerry Chitube, to illegal activities for Botswana’s intelligence arm, the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.   

The DISS has denied working with Chitube. Salbany is currently detained at Mogoditshane Police Station for “interfering with DCEC investigations”. 

“I told the client that he should not let them enter the building, so they say I am interfering with their investigation,” said Salbany, of the Gaborone-based legal firm Bayford and Associates. 

When AmaBhungane phoned the newspaper editor, he was still in the interrogation room at the DCEC offices. Acting editor Seretse said that with the help of the lawyer, they prevented corruption officials from entering the newspaper offices to seize computers and other documents.

“They say we have published a story, which may compromise their investigation. They are not clear on what they want from us,” he said. He said he has followed ethical and journalistic procedures in doing the story. “The picture may be greater than that,” he says.

Violating freedom of expression
The Press Council, the Botswana chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) and the Law Society of Botswana denounced the arrest, describing it as a violation of freedom of expression.  Press Council president Tshireletso Motlogelwa said there are people in government who are increasingly criminalising journalistic work. “There are legal routes to take if journalists have not abided by code of conduct. There is a general move towards intimidating journalists.”

A veteran journalist and editor of the Patriot on Sunday, Ditiro Motlhabane, said he suspected that security and corruption watchdog officials are intimidating journalists and the media in general from carrying out their work freely. 

“Could it be that the revelations of corruption by the media threatens to expose some in the high echelons of power? The recent spate of harassment and arrest of journalists, with some skipping the country, coupled with the ruling party’s reluctance to promulgate of the freedom of information raises eyebrows. There is more than meets the eye,” Motlhabane said.

Allegations of illegal deal
The deported Zambian national is believed to have leaked documents to the newspaper linking the DISS and BDP to illegal oil and diamond deals with a South African petroleum company. 

The image of Botswana as a bastion of press freedom and good governance continues to be dented particularly since President Ian Khama took office in April 2008.  Botswana ranks as partially free in the Freedom House rankings, a significant decline when compared to previous rankings.  

Freedom House downgraded Botswana from 44 to 41 points, saying the sedition charge against Sunday Standard editor, Mokone and his arrest make it increasingly clear that freedom of expression is under attack in Botswana, as the government tries to silence journalists.  Mokone was arrested in September 2014 after his newspaper published a story saying Khama was involved in an accident while driving alone at night. 

The DCEC could not be drawn into confirming the arrest and raid. Its director, Rose Seretse, hung up the phone.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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