- Says freedom of association is under threat in Botswana
- Notes decline in press freedom violation under Masisi
A newly released report has accused the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) and President Mokgweetsi Masisi of undermining basic human rights in Botswana.
Compiled by the United Nations Botswana, the report says DISS poses a threat to the country’s fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic. “In recent years, freedom of association has come under threat in Botswana due to the overreach of the state security agency, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS),” says the report.
“Civil society groups in Botswana have been critical of DISS’ intrusive intelligence methods that undermine basic rights and create a climate of fear. In the past, trade unions, political parties and media organisations all complained about intrusion into their affairs.”
DISS was founded during the latter years of the Festus Mogae presidency. However, the secret service gained prominence in 2008, immediately after former president Ian Khama succeeded Mogae.
Throughout his tenure as president, DISS became notorious for arresting journalists, civic society activists, members of opposition parties, government critics and intruding into people’s private conversations.
Established by an Act of Parliament, many observers regarded the rogue state agency as a law unto itself. Since coming into being, DISS is yet to be audited despite receiving huge budget allocations.
It has previously been accused of being a conduit for money laundering and other financial crimes due to its secrecy and lack of accountability. The UN report says the overreach is a threat to freedom of association.
“Botswana lacks a vibrant civic space because civil society organisations are mostly funded by government,” it notes. “As a result, there is limited inclusion and participation in policy and legislation processes (aside from consultations in kgotla settings).”
Regarding threats to the media and freedom of expression, the report says it is disturbing that for a small nation to have such occur. “Threats to freedom of expression and independent media are a cause for concern in a country with a population of two million where critical voices can easily be identified,” says the UN report.
“However, the 2020 World Press Freedom Index reported that press freedom violations had declined under the current administration.” According to the UN, despite constant threats on the media, the situation continues to change since Mokgweetsi Masisi became president.
“Although the country’s media freedom ranking continues to improve, incidents of violations continue to be reported,” says the report. “In April 2020, President Masisi was accused of using the COVID-19 pandemic to crack down on media and government critics.”
According to the Emergency Powers Act, it’s an offence to publish information “with intent to deceive” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The offence attracts a five-year imprisonment term or a P100 000 fine.