Freelance journalist Sonny Serite was arrested on Thursday, but not yet charged. Serite recently covered stories about alleged corruption of R250m.
Botswana’s intelligence agency, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), has arrested a freelance journalist for obtaining documents allegedly containing “state secrets”, in what appears to be a further effort to intimidate the private media in a country viewed by the west as the shining example of democracy in Africa.
The precise charge remains unclear.
Under Section 317 (2) of the Botswana Penal Code, Sonny Serite would be liable to a prison term not exceeding 14 years. However, human rights lawyer Uyapo Ndadi said the Act deals with receiving stolen property, not information.
“I do not know how they will charge him,” Ndadi said. “If the information breached national security, they would have gone for the National Security Act, which carries a jail sentence of 30 years.”
Serite was arrested by two plain-clothes officers last Thursday and denied bail by a Gaborone Extension II magistrate the following day.
On Monday morning the court granted a fresh bail application.
Serite, a freelancer reporter for feisty investigate newspaper the Botswana Gazette, was allegedly arrested during a private meeting with a source.
Court documents allege that on March 17 “near the office of President” he “received from Abueng Sebola an official file containing official documents” that belonged to Tsaone Nkarabeng “knowing that it was illegal.”
Sebola is a records officer in the office of President, while Nkarabeng is one of Khama’s trusted personal secretaries.
The file is believed to be containing inflated medical bills paid by government after Nkarabeng had a motorcycle accident while off duty. Serite has recently published a series of articles in the Gazette critical of President Ian Khama’s government, including reports alleging corruption involving Botswana Railways and Transnet of South Africa.
The Botswana parastatal is purchasing coaches from its South African counterpart.
The arrest is part of a growing pattern of official harassment of the private media in Botswana.
It comes 10 months after the detention of the Gazette’s managing editor, Shike Olsen, as well as the paper’s reporter, Innocent Selatlhwa, and its lawyer, Joao Salbany, over a corruption expose.
Salbany, who is not a Botswana citizen, was later forced to leave the country when the authorities refused to renew his work permit.
Weeks before the 2014 general election, Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone was held for several hours under sedition charges, while a veteran journalist at the paper, Edgar Tsimane, fled to South Africa, saying that he feared for his life.
The arrest was apparently related to report in the Sunday Standard story that Khama was involved in an accident while driving alone through Gaborone at night.
*This report was compiled by Botswana’s INK Centre for Investigative Journalism, in association with the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism.
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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.