Thursday, October 29, 2020

Dr. Tshipayagae, MPs to testify in fake news case

The Director of Health Services Dr. Malaki Tshipayagae and some Members of Parliament (MPs) are set to testify in a disinfodemic case involving Justice Motlhabani and others.

Tshipayagae, together with MPs Mephato Reatile, Polson Majaga, Liakat Kablay and Mpho Balopi have been cited as witnesses in the fake news case at Broadhurst Regional Magistrate Court.

This publication has not yet established why the five have been cited by the prosecution.

The editor of The Telegraph, also deputy editor of Sunday Standard newspaper Spencer Mogapi has also been cited as a witness. Mogapi’s testimony follows Motlhabani and co-accused’s decision to use the Sunday Standard address and contact details on the Facebook page under investigation.

The case, involving Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Spokesperson Justice Motlhabani, Oratile Dikologang, and Letsogile Barupi, is set to resume on November 4, 2020 for case management.

The trio appeared again before Broadhurst Regional Magistrate recently where they were served with a list of witnesses and exhibits.

They are facing four counts relating to “publishing statements with intention to deceive persons about the COVID-19 infection”, and “use of offensive electronic communication.”

The state alleges that alongside Dikologang and Barupi, Motlhabani is the administrator of a Facebook page called “Botswana Trending News” which published false information relating to President Mokgweetsi Masisi and the COVID-19 pandemic. The offending stories were headlined “Breaking, Masisi to pay BDP MPs P12.5 million each so that they can support state of emergency” and “Botswana hiding coronavirus cases to avoid causing unrest amongst the citizens.”

Having been earlier denied bail by a magistrate court, Motlhabani and his co-accused succeeded in a subsequent application at the Lobatse High Court.

The trio had published a number of Facebook conspiracy theories suggesting that President Mokgweetsi Masisi was using the COVID-19 state of emergency as a stalking horse to attack and destroy his opponents.

In another post, the trio falsely claimed that President Masisi had paid ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) MPs P12 million each to vote through his state of emergency motion. Botswana became the second country in the region after South Africa, and one of more than a dozen in the world to resort to the court in a bid to clamp down on the COVID-19 disinfodemic.

Renowned freedom of expression champion and Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, Professor Guy Berger expressed concern earlier this year following the worldwide outbreak of the virus that COVID-19 fake news is “putting lives at risk”. In an interview with UN News, he explained that falsehoods related to all aspects of COVID-19 have become commonplace.

“There seems to be barely an area left untouched by disinformation in relation to the COVID-19 crisis, ranging from the origin of the coronavirus, through to unproven prevention and ‘cures’, and encompassing responses by governments, companies, celebrities and others.” He added: “In a time of high fears, uncertainties and unknowns, there is fertile ground for fabrications to flourish and grow. The big risk is that any single falsehood that gains traction can negate the significance of a body of true facts.

When disinformation is repeated and amplified, including by influential people, the grave danger is that information which is based on truth, ends up having only marginal impact.”

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