Botswana seeks to fast track 'worst piece of legislation' targeting media, civil society

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  • The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Bill will give Botswana powers to intercept communication and force disclosures.
  • Media organisations say the bill will be expedited through Parliament and won't be scrutinised enough.
  • The African Editors' Forum says this is by far the worst piece of legislation to have emerged from Botswana.

The Botswana government is seeking to fast track the Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigation) Bill, a piece of legislation that journalists say will stifle freedom of the press, trade unions and civil society.

If passed into law, its main aims will be the interception of communication and forced disclosure of information to state intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

In a joint statement, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Press Council of Botswana and Botswana Editors' Forum said the government was being "dishonest and disingenuous".

They said their main worry was that the bill will be passed without public scrutiny and input.

"More shocking to us is the fact that the Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigation) Bill published on 12 January 2022 is being debated under the certificate of urgency rule, which means that it will be expedited through Parliament and not get enough scrutiny and interrogation from the public," read the statement.

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Defence, Justice and Security Minister Thomas Kagiso Mmusi presented the bill to Parliament on 12 January. The three media bodies said the legislation "is replete with intonations that are not consistent with modern trends in democratic states".

Botswana is largely regarded as one of the most stable democracies in Africa despite being dominated by a single party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), since independence in 1966.

However, the latest developments make the media, civil society and trade unionists more vulnerable, according to the three media organisations.

"As the media, we are very worried about the direct implications of this law on the work of journalists, trade unionists and other social activists. The law jeopardises freedom of expression and makes the media especially vulnerable. We wish to highlight the point that Botswana does not have a Freedom of Information Law. And even without the current bill, that alone is a bad situation," they said.

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The African Editors' Forum (TAEF) said it was horrified because the draconian legislation will have chilling effects on the media in the country.

"This is by far the worst piece of legislation to have emerged in Botswana, the Southern African region and the rest of the continent in recent history. The government of Botswana must hang its head in shame and withdraw the bill immediately, " said Jovial Rantao, TAEF's chairperson.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, soldiers at the Sangoule Lamizana military camp outside Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, briefly held freelance reporter Henry Wilkins and Associated Press reporter Sam Mednick.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the journalists were photographing and filming the camp when some soldiers aimed their guns at them, while others fired into the air. The soldiers confiscated their equipment, took them inside the base, and then released them and returned their equipment.

On Monday, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba led a mutiny that ousted President Roch Kaboré.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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