Botswana’s human rights record has been flagged due to the arrests of journalists and police harassment and brutality, a report by Amnesty International shows. The 2016/17 report by the international human rights body added its weight against the sedition charges faced by Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone, the arrest of journalist Sonny Serite and police brutality meted out to jobless peaceful demonstrators in front of Parliament. According to the report the rights to freedom of expression has been restricted. The report states that the Whistle Blower Act, which provided no protection to whistleblowers who contacted the media, came into effect on 16 December last year. The report further states that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly has also been curtailed, adding that police harassment and brutality reigns in the country. This puts Botswana in second place among African countries that lead in police harassment in the continent. Other countries are Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, C├┤te d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia which also recorded cases of police harassment and deaths. The report states that in June, youth activist Tlamelo Tsurupe was arrested and held briefly after protesting against youth unemployment in front of parliament and refusing to move. He subsequently launched #Unemployment Movement. In July, the movement applied for a permit to protest but this was rejected, the report says. Despite this, the report says, the group protested outside parliament. “They were beaten by police and four were arrested and held overnight at Central Police Station on charges of “common nuisance”” says the report. It added that “Two of the four needed medical assistance. The police also arrested three journalists covering the protest and forced them to hand over video footage of the protest.” The report also highlighted some disturbing incidents of sexual abuse of women and girls in the country. It says a councillor of the city of Sebina was accused of molesting and impregnating a 16-year-old girl. According to the report, a case of defilement could not be brought against him because the Penal Code defines defilement as a sexual act with a child aged under 16. “No disciplinary action was known to have been taken by the councillor’s political party, the Botswana Democratic Party,” reads the report. Touching on the right to health, the report says the government has closed without warning or consultation the BCL and Tati Nickel mines. “The sudden closures threatened anti-retroviral therapy treatment and counselling services for mineworkers living with HIV/AIDS as the government failed to make alternative health care provisions. It also left over 4,700 mineworkers uncertain about their retrenchment benefits,” reads the report.
The encampment policy, which restricts refugees to the Dukwi camp, 547km from the capital Gaborone, the report says, continued to limit refugees’ freedom of movement. It says the government announced that it had revoked the refugee status of Namibians from 31 December 2015, even though Namibians who had fled conflict in the Caprivi region of Namibia in 1998 still faced persecution there. The report notes that refugees who returned to Namibia in late 2015 were convicted of charges ranging from high treason to illegally exiting Namibia. Later in January 2016, the Botswana High Court ruled that Namibian refugees should not be repatriated until a legal case brought against the revocation order had been decided. The High Court judgment was upheld on appeal in March. On death penalty, the report says Patrick Gabaakanye was executed for a murder committed in 2014. “This brought to 49 the total number of people executed since independence in 1966. Executions were conducted in secret. Families were given no notice and were denied access to the burial site,” states the report.