PEN South Africa Alarmed at Arrest of Botswana Editor

24 Sep 2014

PEN South Africa expresses alarm at the arrest of Outsa Mokone, the editor of the Sunday Standard in Botswana, and its alarm is deepened by the report by the Committee to Protect journalists that Mokone’s senior reporter, Edgar Tsimane, has fled Botswana in fear of his life and has sought and received asylum from the South African government.

The concern is heightened by the fact that these latest reports follow within days of the arrest of an editor and a human rights lawyer in Swaziland and the murder of two American journalists by Islamic State jihardi in the Middle East.

Botswanan newspapers reported that police arrested Mokone on September 8 when he could not account for the whereabouts of Tsimane, who had written a story two weeks earlier claiming that Botswana President Ian Khama was involved in an unreported traffic accident. Victor Baatweng, a financial reporter at The Telegraph, a sister publication to the Sunday Standard, later reported that Tsimane had applied for, and received, asylum from South Africa, though there is now uncertainty whether the application was received by the South African authorities.

The deeply alarming issue is that Baatweng claimed Tsimane applied for asylum after being warned by his brother, who works for Botswana’s intelligence unit, that his reporting was putting his life and that of his family, in danger.

Tsimane’s report was published on August 22 under the headline “President hit in car accident while driving alone at night”. It claimed that the President had not reported the accident. Both Mokone and Tsimane have been charged with sedition. Mokone was reported to have questioned Tsimane about the sources of his information and accepted that they were credible and reliable.

PEN South Africa regards the charges against the journalists as lacking credibility and likely to have a chilling effect on writers and journalists in Botswana and southern Africa generally, especially the report that Tsimane and his family were in danger. PEN South Africa calls for Mokone’s release and for a full investigation into the allegations that Tsimane had been informed that he and his family were in danger of serious harm.

PEN South Africa calls on the South African authorities to provide clarity on whether Tsimane applied for and was granted asylum and whether any protest has been made to the Botswana government over the treatment of the journalists and the contravention of media freedom principles in the SA Constitution and codes of practice accepted by the SADC and Botswana.

PEN South Africa is concerned that this attack on journalists to prevent them from publishing information about matters of public interest is not only a contravention of constitutional principles upholding the freedom of the press and freedom of expression but is also a threat to writers and authors exercising their rights to freedom of expression as individuals without the financial backing of newspaper publishers.