The folllowing was released by PEN South Africa, a close partner of PEN American Center, on Tuesday, September 16.

 

PRESS RELEASE

CAPE TOWN—PEN South Africa expressed alarm at the arrest of Outsa Mokone, the editor of the Sunday Standard in Botswana. The alarm is deepened by the report by the Committee to Protect Journalists that Mokone’s senior reporter, Edgar Tsimane, fled Botswana in fear of his life and sought asylum from the South African government.

The concern is heightened by the fact that these latest reports follow within days of the arrests of an editor and a human rights lawyer in Swaziland, and the murder of two American journalists by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Botswanan newspapers reported that police arrested Mokone on September 8 when he could not account for the whereabouts of Tsimane, who had written a story two weeks earlier claiming that Botswana President Ian Khama was involved in an unreported traffic accident. Victor Baatweng, a financial reporter at The Telegraph, a sister publication to the Sunday Standard, later reported that Tsimane had applied for, and received, asylum from South Africa.

Baatweng claims Tsimane applied for asylum after being warned by his brother, who works for Botswana’s intelligence unit, that his reporting was putting his life and that of his family in danger.

Tsimane’s report was published on August 22 under the headline “President hit in car accident while driving alone at night.” It claimed that the President had not reported the accident. Both Mokone and Tsimane have been charged with sedition. Mokone was reported to have questioned Tsimane about the sources of his information and accepted that they were credible and reliable.

PEN South Africa regards the charges against the journalists as lacking credibility and likely to have a chilling effect on writers and journalists in Botswana and southern Africa generally. PEN South Africa calls for Mokone’s release and for a full investigation into the allegations that Tsimane had been informed that he and his family were in danger of serious harm.

PEN South Africa calls on the South African authorities to issue a statement on the matter explaining the reasons for granting Tsimane asylum and whether any protest has been made to the Botswana government over the treatment of the journalists and the contravention of media freedom principles in the SA Constitution and codes of practice accepted by the SADC and Botswana.

PEN South Africa is concerned that this attack on journalists to prevent them from publishing information about matters of public interest is not only a contravention of constitutional principles upholding the freedom of the press and freedom of expression, but also a threat to writers and authors exercising their rights to freedom of expression as individuals without the financial backing of newspaper publishers.

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PEN is a non-political organisation representing writers of the world, defending free expression, and encouraging literature. We live by a strong PEN Charter that champions the ideal of “one humanity living in peace in one world.” Originally PEN stood for Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Editors, and Novelists. A leading voice of literature, PEN now brings together poets, novelists, essayists, historians, playwrights, critics, translators, editors, journalists, and screenwriters in a common concern for the craft and art of writing and a commitment to freedom of expression through the written word. Through its 146 Centres in more than 100 countries, International PEN operates on all six continents. The South African PEN Centre (PEN SA) is an English-speaking branch of International PEN, and was initially established in the 1960s as the “PEN club.” www.sapen.co.za

CONTACT
Deborah Horn-Botha, Secretary, SA PEN, rudebs@icon.co.za
Margie Orford, President, SA PEN, margie@margieorford.com