Cape Town – A media rights group has accused the government of Botswana of being aggressive and intolerant towards the media, as a hearing against a privately-owned newspaper kicks off on Tuesday.
The Lobatse High Court will hear a case in which the southern Africa country’s Attorney General is seeking to interdict the Sunday Standard from publishing information relating to investigations by the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crimes.
The case concerns the constitutionality of section 44 of the Corruption and Economic Crime Act, which states that any person, who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, publishes details of an investigation, shall be guilty of an offence.
The respondents are seeking a declaration that section 44 infringes on the right to freedom of expression, to the extent that it curtails the public’s freedom to receive ideas and information without interference.
In an interview with News24, the spokesperson for Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Botswana, Modise Maphanyane, said that, although media freedom was enshrined on the country’s constitution, it was not effectively reflected in practise.
He added that, for the past nine years, President Ian Khama's government had been "very secretive", and did not "allow the media access to information".
"Well, the intention is to challenge the government and its secretive tendency. As the case begins on Tuesday, we want to hear that under no circumstances should the government prevent the media from publishing any stories," said Maphanyane.
This comes as questions were being raised regarding the southern African country's reputation of being an oasis of democracy in Africa.
According to the Washington Post, in the run-up to the elections in 2014, experts questioned the country's gap between its reputation and reality.
The report said the country's economic growth was slowing, there were tensions with public sector unions, and citizens were faced with water shortages and electricity blackouts.
As the election neared, opposition politicians and journalists claimed harassment at the hands of government agents and members of the long-ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
"For too long, Botswana has been regarded as an oasis of democracy in a desert. But that story has to change. Botswana is an unequal country. They are economic disparities and the government has been very aggressive against the media. The government has withheld advertisement with private media, forcing media houses to self-censoring," added Maphanyane.