The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) wishes to express its serious concern and apprehension with regard to increasing reports of fellow citizens who have been arrested and detained by the Police for alleged inappropriate posts in the social media. These posts have been deemed to be criminal behaviour by the government allegedly because they are offensive to the government and leadership of this country. Our concerns are magnified by the fact that these arrests come close on the heels of the adoption by the ruling party dominated parliament of a 6 months state of emergency and the accompanying regulations.
The state of emergency and its regulations were forced through parliament by the ruling party using its numerical strength, totally disregarding the position of the entire opposition that current statutes on public health and the penal code accorded the state enough legal instruments with which to combat Covid-19. The opposition, in a spirit of compromise even offered to accept the state of emergency if the ruling party were to accept a period of 28 days or 3 months.It is now becoming clear that the government forced through the state of emergency with an ulterior motive of using it to suppress any dissent against its policies by arresting commentators on social media and subjecting them to a humiliating experience of being restrained with leg irons in public view.The UDC has always advocated for freedom of speech which is a right enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of Botswana. We view these recent arrests as a choreographed intention of the ruling party to trample upon constitutional rights and to instill fear in members of the public who are critical of the government.
The UDC wishes to remind the government to use the state of public emergency for the sole purpose of reinforcing efforts to combat Covid-19 and not to ruthlessly stifle dissent.The right to free speech is not only entrenched in the Constitution of this country, but is also a globally recognised human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a consequence, we wish to alert the diplomatic community to take note of these recent acts by the government which violate the civic and political rights of citizens of this country.What exacerbates the situation is also an attempt by government to make it next to impossible for suspects to have access to legal representation by attempting to impose onerous requirements for legal practitioners to obtain movement permits which would enable them to offer the required legal representation.
We call upon the government to forthwith cease and desist from the tyrannical arrest, detention and torture of innocent citizens whose only fault is to criticise the government using social media. The Cyber Crimes and Computer Related Offences Act was not enacted to be used as a tool for political suppression, but to address ordinary law crimes committed in cyberspace. We demand that those who have been arrested be released from detention and be allowed to enjoy their freedom until they appear in court to defend themselves against the alleged offences.The UDC wishes to draw the recent developments to the attention of the diplomatic community and all Human Rights international organisations represented in Botswana for appropriate action.
We wish to underscore the right of any suspects charged with an offence to legal representation and the fact that torture or degrading punishment is prohibited not only under SADC protocols but also under the U.N. Conventions.The UDC assures the nation of its complete and unequivocal support in all legitimate and decent efforts by the government to combat Covid-19, but we will never condone any illicit acts committed under the guise of such efforts.In conclusion, we would like to ask the nation to continue to adhere to all advice from the government and the medical profession related to prevention of this dangerous pandemic. Let us work together in an environment characterised by the rule of law and respect for individualhuman rights and dignity. May the Lord intervene in a special way to assist in bringing this pandemic to an end.
*Mohwasa is Head of UDC Communications.