Khama threatens to sue paper

 

Gaborone – The Office of the President has threatened the Sunday Standard newspaper with a civil suit for defamation following the publication of a story purporting that President Ian Khama was involved in a car accident while driving himself at night.

In that article headlined, ‘President hit in car accident while driving alone at night’ the newspaper alleged that the President had been involved in a road accident while driving alone at night on a private escapade.

The paper had further alleged that Khama attempted to conceal the accident and that he violated the country’s road traffic laws and failed to report the accident within the stipulated time.

The Office of the President stated in a statement that following the publication of the story, the Attorney-General advised the Sunday Standard newspaper in writing on September 2, 2014, that the President had neither been the driver nor a passenger in the vehicle that the newspaper alleged he had driven, or the other vehicle that had been involved in a collision with a presidential guard vehicle.

The Attorney-General had further advised the newspaper that its story was “malicious, false, wrongful and unlawful”.

In the same letter, the Sunday Standard was invited to explain its conduct by midday on September 3 and publish a retraction of its false story both online and in the next printed issue on September 6.

To date, the Sunday Standard has not responded to the Attorney-General’s communication. Consequently, the President’s attorneys, Collins Newman & Company, on September 19 wrote to the newspaper and gave them until September 26 to retract the story and apologise to President Khama or risk a court summon.

Sunday Standard Editor, Outsa Mokone, has since revealed that the paper stands by its story.

In another statement, the Office of the President stated that contrary to the Sunday Standard’s assertion that the accident occurred in the evening in Gaborone, according to the police report, it in fact took place on Saturday morning (September 14) on the A1 road at Dibete at around 0900am. 

“The presidential vehicle that was involved in the accident was a Toyota Land Cruiser (not a Range Rover as stated by the Sunday Standard), which was hit from behind by a non-government vehicle, being a Ford Ranger (not a Jeep as claimed by the news report). This occurred after the Land Cruiser slowed down for animals,” read the statement.

The statement says there were four individuals involved in the accident, being the driver and two passengers (including the Senior Private Secretary to the President, Brig. George Tlhalerwa) in the Land Cruiser and the driver of Ford Ranger.

The police report further recommends that the driver of the Ford Ranger be charged with reckless driving.

Following the publication of the article, Mokone was arrested on charges of sedition.

The article was authored by Sunday Standard senior reporter, Edgar Tsimane, who has since sought asylum in South Africa.

After Mokone’s arrest, security agents raided the newspaper and seized brown envelopes, black central processing unit (CPU) and floppy disk from the editor’s office.

Mokone’s arrest and impending lawsuit has generated a lot of debate in the country with the United States issuing a statement condemning his arrest.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Botswana), Director Buyani Zongwani, has said they are going to lobby different stakeholders to support Mokone.

“As MISA we always knew that the government is going to use this draconian law to suppress journalists one day,” he said.

Chairman of the Press Council, Tshireletso Motlogelwa said they are happy about the work that the private media has done lately.

“But we are very concerned about the conduct of the government because this is a serious threat to media freedom. We will continue writing issues that we feel are of interest to the public. 

This is an opportunity for us to challenge these laws because they are not helpful to our democracy,” he said.

He added that they highly regard the judicial system.

Editors Forum Secretary, Kagiso Sekokonyane, has noted that they are still observing events as they unfold.

“We understand that even though he was arrested Mokone has not fully been charged. Our hope is that the security personnel return the newspaper’s equipment so that it can continue with its work,” said Sekokonyane.

Public relations officer at Botswana Police Service, Assistant Commissioner Christopher Mbulawa, is quoted as saying that the investigations into the raid of Sunday Standard office are still ongoing.

“At the moment I cannot say when we will return the property because our investigations are still ongoing. The accused person was informed before the raid happened. The search was related to charges laid against him,” said Mbulawa.

When asked whether this was not an opportunity to gain access to Sunday Standard servers as alleged by some, Mbulawa noted that, “When we do our job we do not disguise anything. 

We legally go to court and apply for the search warrant like we did against Mokone. The right procedure was followed. The investigating team is at liberty to keep them because we might end up using them at court as exhibits against him. 

I cannot disclose what we were looking for at the moment because our investigations are still ongoing,” he said.</p>

October 2014
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