Saturday, May 21, 2022

Amnesty International says Botswana’s freedoms regressed under Covid-19

Botswana recorded a surge in suppression of freedom of expression as well as increasing rates of gender-based violence at the height of Covid-19, Amnesty International said in a new report.

The international human rights watchdog noted that, “State of emergency legislation introduced in response to Covid-19 was extended twice, restricting the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

The organisation also found that: “Women and girls suffered increasing rates of gender-based violence,” adding that, “Asylum rights were restricted.”

The report says, in April, the president extended the state of public emergency for the second time since its introduction in April 2020.

“Regulations under the Emergency Powers Act (EPA), also introduced in 2020, continued to prohibit the right to strike, and carried a maximum five-year prison sentence or a BWP100,553(about US$9,250) fine for anyone publishing information with “the intention to deceive” the public about Covid-19,” the report says.

The report says in February the state amended the charge sheet of opposition spokesperson Justice Motlhabane and journalists Letsogile Barupi and Oratile Dikologang, who were arrested, detained and charged in April 2020 for allegedly publishing false information aboutCovid-19 on Facebook.

“They faced two counts of publishing “with the intention to deceive” under the EPA regulations, one count of “publication of alarming statements” under the penal code, and one count of “offensive electronic communication” under the cybercrime act.”

According to the report, in September, Reverend Thuso Tiego was arrested under the Public Order Act after holding a demonstration calling for the president’s resignation. Several others were arrested when they demanded his release.

Regarding Gender Based Violence, the report noted that in April, the Botswana GBV Prevention and Support Centre (a local NGO) reported an increase in violence against women and girls during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Also touching on refugees and migrants rights, the report says, right to asylum continued to be severely limited. Botswana hosted fewer refugees and asylum seekers than most countries in Africa (674 refugees and 58 asylum seekers as of September.

“In April, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, raised concerns after the authorities deported 57 Zimbabwean refugees who had lived in Botswana since 2008. The refugees failed to register for voluntary repatriation, which led to their forced removal in March,” the report says.

The report also says in November, the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court judgment that declared a law criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual relations unconstitutional.

With regard to the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the report says, there was a third wave of Covid-19 infections during July and August. At its peak, Botswana had a higher percentage rate of infection than any other country in Africa, with 668 positive cases per 100,000 people (in a population of 2.3 million).

On environmental degradation, the report says in August, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee registered its concern about oil exploration licences being granted in environmentally sensitive areas in the Okavango River basin to Canadian-based mining company ReconAfrica.

“The Committee urged the government to ensure that any further steps to develop the oil project be “subject to rigorous and critical prior review, including a thorough environmental impact assessment that corresponds to international standards,” says the report.

It says there were concerns that such projects would have an adverse effect on Indigenous peoples living in the area.

The report observes that Botswana was among a minority of Southern African countries to impose the death penalty.

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