Thursday, May 23, 2024

Botswana’s reputation takes a hit in latest Freedom Report

In the most recent World Report on Freedom by Freedom House, several troubling developments emerge, tarnishing Botswana’s standing. Among these are the detention of former Finance Minister Thapelo Matsheka, the suspension of former Director of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) Tymon Katholo, and the arrest of journalists. Botswana scores 72 out of 100 in the report, indicating significant challenges to freedom.

According to the report, media freedom faces threats from lawsuits against journalists and government attempts to tighten control over the press. In September, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Botswana’s Constitution presented its findings.

“President Masisi stood accused of employing a top-down, non-participatory, and nontransparent approach to constitutional reform,” the report says. 

The report highlights controversies within Botswana’s legal system, including calls for the resignation of Chief Justice Terrence Rannowane over allegations of interference in judicial matters. 

“The LSB accused the chief justice of manipulating the allocation of cases involving high-profile disputes in which the executive has a vested interest. The attorney general registered similar concerns. In September, the LSB called for the immediate resignation of the chief justice following accusations that, working together with Minister for State President Kabo Morwaeng, he tried to influence a judge in the a case against parliament member and former cabinet minister Thapelo Matsheka. The chief justice denied interfering,” the report says. 

Additionally, concerns about the effectiveness and independence of the DCEC persist, with accusations of political meddling and inefficiency in tackling high-level corruption.

“The main anticorruption agency, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) has been accused of ineffectiveness in pursuing high-level cases, and its independence has been questioned since it was transferred to the president’s office in 2012. In July, Parliament dismissed a legislative move, backed by civil society groups, to make the DCEC independent,” the report says. 

Moreover, the report underscores issues of transparency and accountability in Botswana’s judiciary, with opaque appointment processes for judges and criticisms of undue influence in legal affairs. Instances of human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention and police brutality, remain a concern, compounded by the lack of a dedicated human rights body.

Despite legislative efforts to combat corruption and protect whistleblowers, limited funding hampers anticorruption operations. Legislative changes in 2022, such as attempts to expand surveillance powers and regulations on media practitioners, have raised alarms among journalists and advocates for press freedom.

While academic freedom is generally respected, self-censorship persists, particularly on sensitive topics, due to fears of reprisal. Restrictions on freedom of expression, including punitive measures for insulting public officials, contribute to a climate of caution among citizens.

Botswana faces challenges in upholding freedoms, with ongoing concerns about governance, judicial independence, and media regulation highlighted in the latest report. 

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