Bots, US in diplomatic tiff over arrested editor


Gaborone – A diplomatic tiff is brewing between Botswana and the United States following a decision by the latter to issue a statement condemning the arrest of Sunday Standard newspaper Outsa Mokone for publishing material allegedly amounting to sedition.

The Botswana government is unhappy that the US government issued a statement on Mokone’s arrest without consulting first with its authorities at the ministry of foreign affairs. The result is that the government rejected criticism from the US.

In a Press statement, Marie Harf, the US Department of State deputy spokesperson, states that it is deeply concerned by the arrest of Mokone by the government of Botswana on charges of sedition relating to an article published by the Sunday Standard.

The US says it values freedom of the Press, which it says is a key component of democratic governance. “Outsa Mokone’s arrest is inconsistence with these fundamental freedoms and at odds with Botswana’s strong tradition of democratic governance,” reads part of the US statement.

In response, Botswana said it noted with dismay a Press statement expressing concern about the arrest of Mokone.

“We find it unfortunate to say the least that a foreign government, much less one that professes to be a partner of Botswana, should issue such a statement about an ongoing judicial process in our country without even having approached the appropriate authorities for clarification on the matter,” reads the statement issued by Botswana government spokesperson, Jeff Ramsay. 

Ramsay says, “In this respect, we can confirm that at no point prior to the issuance of the said Press statement did any representative of the US government approach our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, as is the accepted diplomatic norm.

“We further note that the case involving Mr Mokone is still before the courts and will be resolved through the judicial process. It would thus be inappropriate for us to comment on the case in the context of sub judice.”

In this respect, the executive branch of the Government of Botswana remains mindful of its responsibility to uphold the rule of law, without fear or favour, in the context of the well-known independence of our judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

In the statement, Ramsay stresses that Botswana “can only hope that outsiders who profess to be informed will exercise similar restraint and not encourage lawlessness in Botswana. That Botswana’s staunch adherence to the rule of law is widely recognised as reflected in our position in the latest, 2014 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index where we are currently ranked 25th in the world, just below the Americans who are themselves only at number 20”.

He adds that “we would note that as a nation under the rule of law the government of Botswana does not detain anyone indefinitely, much less hold them in occupied portions of third countries in violation of international law, for example, Guantanamo”.

“We are, moreover, of the view that if the government of the United States of America is concerned about the detention of journalists, they might be better placed to deal with current allegations of abuse in their own country, such as the recent alleged assault and detention without charge by law enforcement personnel of the Washington Post reporter Mr Wesley Lowery, while he was attempting to cover the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, subsequent to the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.,” reads the statement.

Botswana says it is also well known that the Missouri incident fits patterns of documented abuse, as is reflected by various additional sources by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African-American Descent, which has reported evidence to the UN Human Rights Council, of a 2012 survey that at least 136 unarmed African-Americans were gunned down by police, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes in the US in a single year.

“Given the above, the American government might wish to put its own house in order before rushing to hastily comment on the judicial affairs of others. It may be noted that the government of Botswana does not normally discuss such matters in the public domain as we recognize that there are appropriate diplomatic channels and protocols for the exchange of views among our international partners,” says the statement.

Mokone was released recently after his lawyers approached the High Court to secure his release. Security agents arrested him after he published an article that claims President Ian Khama was involved in a car accident while driving alone at night.

He said he was arrested after he failed to account for the author of the story, senior reporter Edgar Tsimane who has since fled the country and was given temporary asylum by South Africa. Tsimane says he got wind of information that his life was in danger from his brother who is an intelligence officer.

September 2014
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