Food insecurity remained widespread. State of emergency legislation was introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which further restricted the right to freedom of expression. Police subjected political activists to torture and other ill-treatment. Death by hanging was maintained as a punishment for crimes including murder.
On 2 April, the President declared a state of public emergency and also introduced legislation under the Emergency Powers Act. He ordered a 28-day national lockdown subject to parliamentary oversight, which was extended for another week on 28 April.
Later that month, the President pardoned 149 prisoners to ease prison overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty of those released were reportedly foreign nationals. It was not clear which crimes were pardoned or how long the prisoners had left on their sentences.
Torture and other ill-treatment
According to the NGO Ditshwanelo (the Botswana Centre for Human Rights), a 16-year-old boy was flogged at a traditional court in Mahetlwe village in Kweneng District by the village’s Deputy Chief, and on instructions from the police, for not wearing a face mask.
Economic, social and cultural rights
Food insecurity remained widespread, mainly as a result of recurring drought. It was compounded by an African Migratory Locust outbreak in February which affected staple crops. These factors, combined with COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures like border closures, adversely affected food supplies and further exacerbated food insecurity levels.
The impact of lockdown and movement restrictions was particularly harsh for people working in the informal economy, among the most vulnerable to a socio-economic shock, who represented the majority of workers across the country, and particularly those who mainly worked in the agricultural sector as well as street vendors.
In May, the government enforced the wearing of face masks in public and imposed a maximum fine of BWP5,000 (approximately US$432) or up to five years’ imprisonment for anyone who failed to comply.
Freedom of expression
The Emergency Powers Act prohibited journalists from using “source(s) other than the Director of Health Services or the World Health Organization” when reporting on COVID-19. Journalists failing to obey faced a fine of up to BWP100,000 (approximately US$8,100) or a five-year jail term. The Act outlawed publishing information with “the intention to deceive” the public about COVID-19, or information about the government’s measures to control the spread of the virus.
Several people were believed to have been charged either under the Emergency Powers Act or the Penal Code for expressing their opinions. For example, Justice Motlhabane, the spokesperson for the Botswana Patriotic Front, an opposition party, was arrested by police on 16 April for “degrading and maligning the leadership” after he was accused of suggesting on Facebook that the President would prolong the state of emergency to “deal with his political rivals and business competitors”. Justice Motlhabane told journalists that he was tortured by being electrocuted while in police custody on this and several other occasions.
On 18 June, journalists David Baaitse and Kenneth Mosekiemang were arrested by intelligence agents after they photographed a building linked to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security, the domestic and international intelligence agency. After spending a night in custody, they were released and charged with “common nuisance”, which, under the Penal Code, carries a fine of up to BWP5,000 (US$432) or up to two years’ imprisonment.
Botswana continued to impose death sentences and carried out executions by hanging for crimes including murder. It was the only state in Southern Africa to carry out executions.