Near drama ensued at Central Police Station (Gaborone) on Friday as members of the media clashed with the police over the arrest and detention of freelance investigative journalist Sonny Serite on Thursday. Confrontation resulted after the police refused Serite access to his lawyer Martin Dingake citing national security concerns. Serite was arrested together with an employee of the Office of the President-Abueng Sebola, by CID officers on suspicion of being in possession of government secret documents. Serite and his co-accused were denied bail by Extension 2 Magistrate Tobizodwa Ncube on Friday evening as the state said their investigations are still on going.
Serite who was charged with contravening national security act by obtaining secret files from Office of the President (OP) belonging to one Tsaone Nkarabang had his charge changed to receiving stolen property from Sebola. Sebola who is a Records Officer at the OP was charged with stealing documents belonging to Nkarabang. According to investigating officer Rakhudu, Serite and Sebola were arrested behind the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations in possession of a brown envelope containing three documents about Nkarabang. “The documents include a memo from one Moepeng, copy of marriage certificates and medical records belong to Nkarabang,” said Detective Rakhudu appearing before Magistrate Ncube of Extension 2.
Asked if the complainant being OP has been contacted since the arrest of the two suspects he answered in the negative. Rakhudu admitted during cross examination by the defence attorney Martin Dingake that they could not allow him to see Serite due to the sensitive nature of the case. The court had to be adjourned after the state prosecutor passed a piece of paper to Rakhudu advising him to tell court that they failed to search the accused persons due to rain. Efforts by the lawyer to have the two accused granted bail failed as the magistrate said she had to weigh the interest of the state against the freedom of the accused persons. Editors’ forum Chairperson said that the arrest of Serite is a clear indication that government is hell bent on oppressing the media. He called on the media to stand behind Serite.
Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Publicity Secretary Moeti Mohwasa condemned the arrest of the journalist and called on government to stop harassing private media. “Having declared war on the media houses by starving them of advertising, the state is now going for the practitioners and ensuring that it instils fear in them. The opposition and other progressive formations in this country have long called for the introduction of Access to Information Act / Freedom of Information Act, but the secretive BDP is not budging. It should be noted that numerous International bodies which Botswana is a member of, encourage member countries to open up and become more accountable and promote freedom of expression,” reads statement from UDC.
Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union (BOMAWU) in their press statement also condemned the arrest of both Serite and his source. “Botswana government's intention is to stifle dissent and weaken freedom of the press and expression,” reads the statement. Although it is not clear what is really contained in the files, it is alleged that Nkarabang is a close associate of President Ian Khama. In his Facebook page, Nkarabang is seen taking photos with President Khama at some social events. Sources within government enclave have alleged that Seribe was working on a sensitive story that was to expose the goings-on at OP and the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism (MEWT). It is alleged that MEWT has established a Tourism Intelligence Services (TIS) which is headed by a former commander of military intelligence. It is further alleged that the new intelligence unit which is mainly dealing with poaching is not sitting well with some senior officers at government enclave.