Botswana is a constitutional, multiparty, republican democracy. Its constitution provides for the indirect election of a president and the popular election of a National Assembly. In 2014 the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won the majority of parliamentary seats in an election deemed generally free and fair. President Ian Khama retained his position until April 1, when at the conclusion of his maximum 10-year term, he stepped down from office and former vice president Mogkweetsi Masisi was sworn in as the country’s fifth president. The BDP has held the presidency and a majority of National Assembly seats since independence in 1966.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included excessive use of force and abuse by security personnel; criminal libel; corruption; sexual and gender-based violence against women and children; and economic and political marginalization of the Basarwa (San) people.
The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. Impunity was generally not a problem.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, the law restricts the speech of some government officials and fines persons found guilty of insulting public officials or national symbols. The law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the president, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense and may be fined up to 400 pula ($38). The penal code also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense and may be fined up to 500 pula ($47).
Press and Media Freedom: In a break from his predecessor, President Masisi initiated a productive relationship with media shortly after assuming the presidency on April 1. He held two press conferences in his first 100 days and repeatedly assured journalists of his respect for their role in a healthy democracy. He also began the process of establishing a first-ever presidential press office to welcome and promote engagement with media. The government dominated domestic broadcasting.
The government owned and operated the Botswana Press Agency, which dominated the print media through its free, nationally distributed newspaper, Daily News, and two state-operated FM radio stations. State-owned media generally featured reporting favorable to the government and, according to some observers, were susceptible to political interference. Opposition political parties claimed state media coverage heavily favored the ruling party. The government ombudsman stated in a 2017 report that public broadcaster Botswana Television “unduly favored” the ruling party in its political coverage.
Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, which frequently included strong criticism of the government; however, media members complained they were sometimes subject to government pressure to portray the government and country in a positive light. Private media organizations had more difficulty than government-owned media obtaining access to government-held information.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some members of civil society organizations alleged the government occasionally censored stories in government-run media it deemed undesirable. Government journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship.
Libel/Slander Laws: In 2014 police arrested Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone and charged him with sedition for publishing articles about an automobile accident allegedly involving President Khama. Observers noted the use of the penal code’s sedition clause for a newspaper article was unprecedented and that the Sunday Standard had published several articles exposing corruption allegations within the DISS. In 2016 lawyers for Mokone sought to have the charges dropped based on the penal code’s infringement of the defendant’s constitutional right to freedom of expression. That same year the High Court ruled the penal code’s sedition clause was constitutional and charges of sedition against Mokone could proceed. In September the government dropped all charges against Mokone. The Court of Appeal did not rule on the constitutionality of the sedition clause.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2017 approximately 41 percent of individuals used the internet.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In May the minister of defense, justice and security announced a July 11 deadline for the Namibians whose refugee status was revoked in 2015 to repatriate voluntarily or face deportation proceedings, according to the Immigration Act, as illegal aliens. The Namibians sued the government for restoration of their refugee status. The case remained pending before the court.
The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting approximately 2,340 refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
In December 2017 the private weekly the Botswana Gazette ran a 16-page special report by the INK Center for Investigative Journalism summarizing a four-month investigation into the treatment of the asylum seekers at the FCII. According to the report, the asylum seekers said Botswana authorities physically abused them.
Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The system for granting refugee status was accessible but slow. The government generally provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
The government held refugees and asylum seekers in the FCII until the Refugee Advisory Committee (RAC), a governmental body, made a status recommendation. The committee meets quarterly during the year. UNHCR representatives participated in advisory committee meetings as observers and technical advisers.
In 2017 the Ministry of Defense, Justice, and Security introduced biometric identity cards for refugees and asylum seekers.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government applies the principle of first country of asylum; on that basis in 2015 it detained more than 400 individuals, many of whom had previously received refugee status in a third country and then claimed asylum.
In November 2017 the Court of Appeal ruled only recognized refugees were authorized to reside at Dukwi Refugee Camp, and asylum seekers who were transferred there earlier in the year based on a July High Court order should be returned to the FCII. The ruling prompted the majority of the asylum seekers to flee the camp rather than be returned to the FCII, where they allegedly had been physically abused by guards and prison inmates. The majority of asylum seekers were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Composed mainly of families that had transited Zambia and Tanzania, the RAC refused their claims based on its “first country of asylum” policy and held the families at the FCII while they awaited deportation. UNHCR urged the government to review its decision to deny asylum and to keep the asylum seekers at the FCII, where authorities separated family members, and women and children lived in tents in substandard conditions. Asylum seekers were housed at the FCII with inmates from the local men’s prison while it underwent refurbishment. Security at the FCII was a concern, and in 2017 an inmate allegedly sexually assaulted a 12-year-old male asylum seeker. There were reports food rations provided to asylum seekers were inadequate.
Employment: As of September most of the country’s 2,031 registered refugees were living in Dukwi Camp without the right to work outside the camp. As a general policy, all registered refugees must reside in Dukwi under a strict encampment policy, although the government may issue a residence permit to remain outside the camp in exceptional cases, such as for refugees enrolled at a university, in need of specialized medical care, or with unique skills.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees in Dukwi had access to education and basic health care. They were unable to access government programs for HIV/AIDS medication, but the government allowed an international donor-funded parallel program to provide such medication. UNHCR facilitated refugee and asylum seekers’ exit permit applications for medical referrals as necessary. Officials typically granted exit permits for three days; refugees found outside the camp without a permit were subject to arrest.
International observers noted there was no access to education in the FCII, which as of August housed 61 children. The center hosts a clinic, and a specialized nurse provides basic health care, while critical cases were referred to the Francistown city hospital.
Durable Solutions: According to the Ministry of Defense, Justice, and Security, as of November 105 Namibians, 37 Zimbabweans, and one refugee each from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Uganda voluntarily repatriated during the year. The majority of the Namibian population refused to repatriate voluntarily despite the government’s announcement they would be considered illegal immigrants and face deportation.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection at Dukwi to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. UNHCR provided food and other provisions to individuals under temporary protection.