Saturday, May 15, 2021

Lines between spooks and scribes blur in Eritrean asylum seekers ‘case

In Botswana, DISS is a four letter word. Mention the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) in public and everyone starts speaking in hushed voices and looking furtively over their shoulders. So when the lawyer representing 10 Eritrean asylum seekers, Dick Bayford told reporters this week how he foiled a DISS Black Operation, the story harked back to the biblical image of small David bringing down a towering and heavily armoured Goliath with a sling shot. It also provides a fitting metaphor for the fight between Bayford and the state over the fate of the asylum seekers: The most decisive parts of the battle are fought in the shadows cloak and dagger style and government seems to be losing every skirmish.

Armed with a court order granting them access to visit their clients at the Centre for Illegal Immigrants in Francistown Bayford and his aide Joao Salbany had a rude awakening.  “We had expected a warm reception from the asylum seekers after we had represented them in court and stopped government from repatriating them to their country where they faced the wrath of their own government. But it was a cold reception.”

The story sounds like a page straight from a spy Black Op handbook. The10 Eritrean asylum seekers had a nocturnal visit from unidentified government department officials who persuaded them to sign a declaration denouncing their lawyers and the EritreanMovement for Democracy and Human Rights. The movement had instructed Bayford and Associates on behalf of the Eritrean football players.

To keep the operation clandestine and not attributable to them ÔÇô in line with Black Ops – the DISS agents did not sign the Prison Occurrence Book.

The operation which was meant to wean the 10 asylum seekers from their lawyers and probably collapse their case however began to unravel when the asylum seekers started warming up to Bayford and Salbany, disclosing details of the clandestine meeting. A Botswana Prisons Services official who was cooperative allegedly informed the two lawyer that the only government organ which was allowed to enter without following due security measure were members of the DISS.  Bayford told reporters that, “if the interaction between the players and the DISS agents took place after the court order was issued the DISS would be in contempt of court. He disclosed that they were in the process of tracking down the five security agents to haul them before court for contempt.

Up until now, newspaper readers were only presented a picture perfect image of Bayford, Salbany and government officials smiling and shaking hands over a consent court order to keep the asylum seekers in Botswana. Those close to the action were however aware that the smiling suits were like ducks in a pond ÔÇô calm on the surface but peddling furiously underneath.

The happy out of court settlement was only a lull before the storm. The government’s dirty tricks department never had time to catch a breather from the Black Operation set in motion long before the Francistown detention centre fiasco.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information suggesting that DISS agents, public officials and government journalists are all part of a motley crew of shadowy figures that have taken up cloaks and daggers to fight the state’s corner against Bayford’s bid to have the 10 Eritreans granted asylum.

This was after an attempt to fight the battle in public went terribly wrong for government during a Gabz fm radio interview. In the heat of the moment, the Minister of Justice Defence and Security, Shaw Kgathi let slip that government had already decided to repatriate the 10 Eritreans even before taking them through the assessment process. Bayford smelled blood and decided to go for the kill. He filed an urgent application with the High Court in Lobatse asking among other things that the court should take over Kgathi’s role in deciding the fate of the 10 asylum seekers.

In his application, Bayford argued that the asylum seekers “should be accorded fair and impartial hearing, especially because Kgathi had previously stated that they are not political refugees. He asked the Court to take over the functions of the Refugee Advisory Committee and Minister Shaw Kgathi.

Faced with the potentially embarrassing possibility, the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security roped it the Department of Information and Broadcasting to help clean up after the minister. The ministry devised a plan in which Btv reporters would be sent on a cloak and dagger errand packaged as a news assignment. The plan referred to as False Flagging in intelligence-speak is an appendage of a Black Operation. The result was that Btv presented a doctored story of Bayford accepting a retraction by Minister Kgathi. This was intended to take away the sting from the court application. Now that Kgathi had retracted his statement and Bayford had accepted it, the argument that Kgathi had prejudged the 10 asylum seekers applications stood on weaker ground.

Apparently aware of the possibility of the plan running into the sand, Minister Kgathi conveniently left the country on the day of the court hearing. This gave the state room to manoeuvre. With another minister acting in Kgathi’s stead as minister of Defence Justice and Security, there was a good chance the court would decline taking away the minister’s role and instead agree with the argument that the acting minister was not tainted.

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