Monday, October 25, 2021

Khama’s mankini photoshopper still being investigated

The police may not have a case against a Water Utilities Corporation employee who digitally stripped an image of President Ian Khama to a stitch of abbreviated underwear.

In written response to a query, Bosija didn’t explicitly say that but there can be no other reason why a case that set off costly super-sleuthing by two arms of force has not yet been registered at the magistrate court.

“As the matter is still under investigation, we are constrained to discuss details of the case with the media,” Bosija said.

Details already in the public domain are that following the publication of the offending picture, the Directorate of Intelligence Service (DIS) nabbed the culprit. It has been credibly alleged that a DIS did a Gaborone-Maun round trip for the express purpose of fetching the suspect who would subsequently have been handed over to the police for investigation leading up to judicial processing. At the time, Bosija said that the culprit would be charged with offending the presidential standard. However, almost six months after the fact, the photoshopper has not been charged and from what Sunday Standard gathers, has gone back to work. This suggests (but doesn’t prove) that as offensive as the photoshopped picture may have been to some, the latter cannot be charged with any criminal offence. There were actually lawyers who were quoted in the press as saying that legally, the photoshopper did nothing wrong.

While not commenting on the latter issue, a former senior magistrate raises the point that the police blundered by preferring the wrong charge because the presidential standard and the president are two different entities. There is any number of possible scenarios under which the standard can be insulted but in this particular case, it doesn’t feature anywhere. The subject was Khama and only Khama.

The police may not be out of options yet. As in the case of Sunday Standard editor, Outsa Mokone, the photoshopper may be charged with sedition whose provisions in the Penal Code are so broad as to arbitrarily criminalise just about everything that “brings into hatred or contempt or excites disaffection against the person of the president.” By applying Machiavellian wit, an unusually determined Directorate of Public Prosecution lawyer can build a case for why an Umbrella for Democratic Change activist who eyeballed the president at a kgotlameeting offended sedition law.

If this is indeed the option the police are considering, there is one hurdle ahead of them. After an unfavourable outcome at the High Court, Mokone has appealed to the Court of Appeal, challenging the constitutionality of this law. The appeal will be heard at the July session and an outcome that is favourable to the government might trigger a prosecution in the photoshopper’s case. 

Some of the most vicious, anti-social online conduct finds expression on social media and Khama is not the only person to have been subjected to this viciousness. Social media pathology is so acute that the police have asked cellphone paparazzi to stop taking gruesome road accident pictures (some of corpses) and posting them on Facebook. Following the publication of the offending picture, the Office of the President released a statement that is remarkable for what, given developments around this case, it implicitly promises. According to OP, Botswana has sufficient laws to govern the use and abuse of social and other media and these laws will be used to protect the presidency and the society as a whole. Bosija’s constraint “to discuss details of the case with the media” has had the effect of constraining the extent to which we could hold the government to its promise about protecting society as a whole. We had sought precise answers on this question through one very specific question: “Away from this case, what action does the Botswana Police Service (BPS) take in instances when ordinary people are depicted the way this particular suspect depicted President Khama? Do you also mobilise your resources to nab suspects in the manner you did in this case and has that happened with anyone in the past?” However, even without Bosija tendering response, nobody (law enforcement sources included) has ever heard of a DIS plane flying out across the country to airlift a social media mischief-maker for special interrogation in Gaborone in a case involving ordinary people as victims.

The solution that the police could hypothetically find in sedition law, is not an option that exists for other citizens who are subjected to social media victimization. Over time, this could create a law enforcement challenge because some of the latter may decide to take the law into their own hands if they have no recourse to law.

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