BOTSWANA: Govt to retain "draconian" law

GABORONE, 13 April (IRIN) - The Botswana government will retain the stringent apartheid-era National Security Act despite complaints from journalists that it limits media freedom.

Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Minister Phandu Skelemani told IRIN that it would be unwise to repeal the law, introduced in 1986 at the height of apartheid South Africa's aggression towards its independent neighbours.

"The Act is seldom invoked, but has been preserved for use when expedient," said Skelemani.

The Botswana chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has asked the government for a public explanation of the reasons for retaining the act, which it has described as "draconian".

Modise Maphanyane, the director of MISA in Botswana, said the act was introduced "under duress", when Botswana had been a target for military raids against African National Congress activists - circumstances which no longer apply.

The act stifles journalism, according to MISA. Among other provisions it forbids any person from publishing official information - however insignificant - without authorisation, and bars media reports on Botswana's military strength and defence expenditure.

Since its enactment it has been used to charge seven people, among them Australian Professor Kenneth Good, a University of Botswana political science lecturer who is currently fighting a deportation order after being declared a prohibited immigrant. The order followed his presentation of a lecture paper questioning Botswana's democratic record.

"This act is an enemy of press freedom and is affecting access to information," said Maphanyane. "If the government does not want to repeal it, it should at least relax some of its clauses that affect press freedom in the country."

But Skelemani recently told parliament that the global fight against terrorism made the act still relevant, and its retention an imperative.

However, some opposition legislators remained unconvinced. "The act used to be relevant during the apartheid years, but now it seems not to be important, especially when looking at the relatively tranquil political situation in the region," said parliamentarian Akanyang Magama.

Source: IRIN-SA / UN