Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) regional chairperson, Golden Maunganidze recently spearheaded a collaborative effort by the media lobby’s regional chapters to call on the Botswana government to consider dumping contentious clauses to a proposed law that empowers authorities in that country to electronically eavesdrop into private phone conversations with neither a court order nor the marked individuals’ knowledge.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s government is under fire for enacting the controversial Criminal Evidence Procedure (Controlled Investigations) Bill amid concerns the move could be an unnecessary drawback from his government’s sublime democratic credentials that have separated it from other rogue regimes.
Amid the tense atmosphere, the MISA-Botswana chapter raised the red flag to regional peers to help leverage its domestic lobby.
Following the appeal, Maunganidze, under the auspices of the MISA Regional Governing Council (RGC), wrote to Masisi’s government urging authorities in the neighbouring country to consider exhausting all constitutional avenues used when formulating laws before they could impose it on citizens.
“We thought this was going to affect the operations of the media. Journalists everyday are in telecommunications anyway,” Maunganidze told Zimstar News following what MISA is content was a successful trip.
Maunganidze, who is also MISA-Zimbabwe chair, said he was charmed by the humble reception granted to his delegation by government representative and Botswana Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi.
“They gave us audience, we had deliberations; they promised that they were going to remove some clauses that we were not comfortable with.
“Whether they are going to do it or not, we are going to monitor. But we are happy that they granted us audience and their commitment for continued dialogue between the government and the media was very good,” he said.
MISA regional chapters that constituted the delegation comprised of chairpersons from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zambia, Tanzania and Botswana.
MISA regional director Tabani Moyo also constituted the delegation.
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MISA meets government officials in Botswana over the Criminal Evidence Procedure (Controlled Investigations) Bill
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Regional Governing Council (RGC) last week convened highly successful engagement and solidarity meetings in Botswana during which the country’s highly contentious Criminal Evidence Procedure (Controlled Investigations) Bill was high on the agenda.
MISA held the high level meetings with government officials and other stakeholders stressing that the Bill was detrimental to Botswana’s image as one of the citadels of democracy and freedom of expression in the region.
It was MISA’s position that Botswana has a good reputation in terms of being the oldest democracy on the continent. There was therefore need to maintain this distinction by ensuring the Bill does not infringe on individual freedoms such as the rights to free expression, privacy and association. It is one of the three Southern African countries that made progress according to the 2021 Index. The other two countries being Malawi and Zambia.
MISA acknowledged and noted that the government of Botswana had listened to civil society organisations by amending the contentious parts of the Bill.
Botswana’s Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi, explained why the Bill had been fast-tracked through parliament, adding that the country was trying to be in compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations.
Botswana, which had been grey-listed by the FATF, is due for review sometime this year.
The country has since been removed from the grey list.
Minister Kgathi said they had listened to concerns from civil society organisations and conceded on the need for more judicial oversight when officials are intercepting communications.
He also conceded that in the haste to pass the Bill, there had been missteps, which the government now sought to address. However, MISA impressed upon the government of Botswana to be guided by Principle 41 of the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Principle 41 says that States shall ensure that any law authorising targeted communication surveillance provides adequate safeguards for the right to privacy. MISA further humbly requested upon the government of Botswana to ensure that the final bill meets regional and international best practice.
Meanwhile, MISA also held an RGC meeting on the sidelines of the solidarity meetings, where updates were given on the progress of projects being implemented by the respective MISA chapters in the SADC region.
MISA continues to strengthen its regional network following the relocation of the Regional Secretariat to Harare, Zimbabwe.
In that regard, MISA will during the course of the year continue to hold similar solidarity meetings across the region.
The initial meeting was in Botswana due to the urgency brought about by the gazetting of the amendments to the Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigations) Act.
Earlier this year, MISA, working with a number of freedom of expression advocacy groups, petitioned the government of Botswana not to proceed with the amendments arguing this would infringe on the right to freedom of expression, right to privacy and freedom of assembly.