Govt strikes fear

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 23 February 2016   |   By Ditiro Mothabane
President Ian Khama President Ian Khama

The after effects of Government's refusal to renew work and residence permits for attorney Joao Salbany of Bayford and Associates are rippling through the whole legal fraternity and have spilled off into the overall business space, close observers have confirmed. Expatriate lawyers have become the most prominent victims as they are skating away from handling matters that challenge government and her institutions in fear of being seen as enemies of the state.

A Gaborone-based lawyer, whose law firm has employed expatriate attorneys, said his colleagues are concerned about their immigration situation after government punished Salbany for performing his professional duties as a lawyer registered to practise in Botswana. Salbany made headlines last year when he defended a local newspaper against agents of Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC). The DCEC wanted to raid the newspaper and arrest some journalists for a story they published but Salbany disrupted the process demanding that the proper legal route be followed before his clients could be arrested and their equipment confiscated. He was later arrested and detained at Mogoditshane police station for allegedly obstructing justice.

Salbany is not the first. In 2014 British lawyer Gordon Bennett was ordered to apply for a visa and blocked from entering the country to represent his clients in an ongoing case at the time. Bennett had been representing Basarwa of CKGR and Ranyane settlement in their numerous lawsuits with government over their relocation from their ancestral land inside the reserve, and the subsequent termination of services. He was never granted the visa.

At the opening of the 2016 legal year, Chairman of the Law Society of Botswana (LSB) Lawrence Lecha criticised government for denying Salbany continued stay in the country and general harassment of lawyers. Lecha cited the Eritrean players’ saga as an example. He said "government took to the media and other covert operations to disparage one of the finest legal minds and respected protectors of the Constitution and Human Rights. His Professional Assistant, who has lived in Botswana for more than 16 years was suddenly a “security threat” and denied renewal of his work and residence permits. Whilst our members may admittedly be afraid, they will not be deterred." He was referring to attorney Dick Bayford, managing partner at Bayford & Associates where Salbany was employed. Lecha said LSB believes that whilst Botswana enjoys repeated commendations on its Rule of Law credentials, lawyers should not be complacent. "Botswana and indeed Batswana should in fact introspect to determine if indeed we are what they say we are," he said. 

Another local attorney, whose law firm has lawyers from neighbouring countries on their payroll, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not conversant with government's reasons for refusal of permits and deportations, said it is common course that in private practice expatriate lawyers avoid sensitive cases with political implications. "It is an unwritten policy in private practice that lawyers from outside concentrate on other parts of the business like conveyance and transactions to avoid run-ins with government officials. They do not touch controversial and sensitive cases which challenge government's adherence to the rule of law or its human rights record. It is not about their competence because we have some brilliant lawyers but they can't go into some areas," she said.

She added that as a lawyer she has interacted with foreigners in other sectors of the economy who have also pointed out that they always find ways not to be pitted against government in their dealings. She said chances of professionals working in the country being independent is remote as they face the predicament of being denied work and residence permits upon expiry or even deportation under trumped up charges if they falter.

Foreign business owners

The fear extends beyond the legal fraternity. Expatriates doing business in Botswana are alleged to be living in fear of being deported at the pleasure of government officials without a fair hearing. Since President Ian Khama took power in 2008, over 2400 foreign nationals among them academics and professional have been deported while others were declared prohibited immigrants. In the past two years Khama deported 414 foreigners. A total of 40 were expelled after Khama exercised powers under Section 41 1(c) which says the President can declare any person a prohibited immigrant in consequence of information received from a reliable source. The other 373 were declared prohibited immigrants because they had been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment without the option of a fine for the various criminal offences. The Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Batshu revealed the statistics in Parliament last week when responding to questions from Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi. He could not disclose the nationalities of the deportees or the nature of their businesses.

Batshu would not say what happened to the assets accrued by deportees during their stay in the country. He said deportees were facilitated to travel to their countries of origin and they were responsible for making their own arrangements for disposal of their assets. Batshu added that this figures do not include thousands of illegal immigrants repatriated to their respective countries mainly Zimbabweans on a daily basis. More deportations under Khama administration

During Sir Ketumile Masire’s 18 years in power, there were only 115 deportations while Festus Mogae deported 790 foreigners during his presidency which spanned 10 years. Khama succeeded Mogae in April 2008. By March 2010 Khama had already deported 404 foreigners while last year alone, Khama had declared 133 foreigners prohibited immigrants. The high numbers of deportations under Khama have been credited to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DISS) who conduct security vetting and surveillance. 

Some of the key foreigners denied entry or deported

UB lecturer Professor Kenneth Good
The Sociology professor was declared a prohibited immigrant and thrown out of the country by the then President Festus Mogae, totally disregarding an ongoing case challenging the decision. A widely opinionated academic, Prof Good made enemies with the BDP government after he held public lectures and wrote numerous journals criticising the deteriorating state of democracy and rule of law in Botswana.

British lawyer Gordon Bennett
He was ordered to apply for a visa and blocked from entering the country to represent his clients in an ongoing case at the time. Bennett represented Basarwa of CKGR in their numerous battles with government over their relocation from their ancestral land inside the reserve, and the subsequent termination of provision of amenities. He was never granted a visa.

American movie star Rick Yune
A close friend to UDC president Duma Boko, and widely believed to have supported the party with funds ahead of the 2014 General Elections. Despite having visited Botswana in the past and attended UDC rallies, Yune was suddenly told to apply for a visa which was never granted.

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SA politician Julius Malema
The radical EFF leader has a close relationship with the opposition UDC, particularly the Botswana National Front cadres. He was placed in the list of foreigners who need a visa to visit Botswana after he dismissed Khama's style of leadership as a dictatorship and called for a regime change after accusing Botswana of siding with imperialists.

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