Botswana authorities should immediately drop the criminal charge against Moeladilotlhoko News Boiler director Tshepo Sethibe, return devices seized from the outlet, and refrain from harassing the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On July 13, about 25 law enforcement officers arrested Sethibe at his home in the town of Mogoditshane, northwest of the capital Gaborone, and charged him under a law barring “alarming publications,” according to news reports, a Facebook post by his outlet, and the journalist and his lawyer, Obonetse Jonas, both of whom spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
After arresting Sethibe, police seized two laptops, three mobile phones, a desktop computer, and passwords from Moeladilotlhoko News Boiler’s offices in the town of Kumakwane, Sethibe told CPJ. As of July 19, police have not returned the equipment.
Sethibe appeared in the Village Magistrate Court in Gaborone on July 14 and was released on a bail of 2,000 pula (US$156), according to Jonas and a police statement reviewed by CPJ, which said his next court date is set for September 6.
If convicted of spreading alarming publications, Sethibe could face up to two years imprisonment and an unstipulated fine, according to Section 33 of the penal code.
“Botswana authorities should immediately drop the criminal charge against Moeladilotlhoko News Boiler director Tshepo Sethibe and return all devices seized from the publication,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in Durban, South Africa. “Censorship and criminal prosecution should never be the antidote for journalism that authorities disagree with.”
The charges against Sethibe stem from a July 8 Facebook post by Moeladilotlhoko News Boiler, a privately owned outlet that publishes on Facebook and has nearly 344,000 followers about a missing 6-year-old child, which alleged that police had found the child’s remains and would cremate them without holding a funeral or releasing them to the family, according to a chargesheet reviewed by CPJ. Police maintain that the remains belong to the missing child although the family has refused to collect them for burial, according to a news report.
Moeladilotlhoko News Boiler has published several posts about the child since his March 2022 disappearance.
“They arrested me because the government is trying, by all means, to intimidate me from revealing the truth about the whereabouts of a 6-year-old boy,” the journalist told CPJ.
Near Bagali, assistant of the Botswana police service public relations officer, told CPJ by messaging app that he could not comment, as the “matter is before court.”
Sethibe was previously arrested with four other Moeladilotlhoko News Boiler staff members on criminal trespassing charges in January 2021, as CPJ documented at the time. The state withdrew the case on February 15, 2022, as Moeladilotlhoko News Boiler reported.