Pastor Steven Anderson has arrived in Botswana, opened a church and is preaching his homophobic rhetoric based on his interpretations of biblical script. The Botswana Government has allowed his entry and one would assume she issued him work permits to conduct his church.
It may be divine coincidence therefore that the same week has been marked by a controversial likeness to the President photo shopped in a “mankini” made famous by actor Sacha Baron Cohen’s parodic character “Borat”, standing outside of parliament. The image that was condemned in some quarters as being “disrespectful” to the President and contrary to the vagaries of cultural practices and norms- resulted in the arrest and detention of Maun resident Kealeboga Chimbganda and the suspension of Yarona FM’s acting Editor Kaombona Kanani for reposting the image for commentary.
The image, regardless of whether one agrees with it, portrays a political commentary a satire (again the issue is not whether this was done well or badly). It breaks no national laws and is protected by the Freedom of Expression provisions of the Constitution. In spite of such protection security agents have been swift to act and curtail the freedom of speech of those involved. The premise being that the image violates against provisions of the Penal Code. It does not. The justification for the arrest has descended into the realm of “public morality”.
Pastor Steven Anderson, who openly advocates for the execution of homosexuals by a “righteous” government, espouses a position that resonates with the current government’s position on the homosexual conduct. Speaking after the Orlando shootings in which 50 members of the LGBT community were killed he stated, that the “good news was that there were 50 less perverts and paedophiles” equating the LGBT community to such criminal conduct. The Government through the Attorney General argued in the Legabibo case that members of the LGBT community are not “people” as defined by the Constitution. A position that was roundly rejected by the Court of Appeal. Pastor Anderson preaching from a religious fundamentalist position is consonant with the government’s regard or lack of it to freedom of sexual orientation and practice and its failure to recognise the inherent rights of all personals regardless of the sexual orientation and practices. As a result he has been favoured and allowed entry into a country.
The application of the “righteous” government principle, from a religious fundamentalist perspective must be interpreted to be a government based on religious teachings and a strict adherence to the literal interpretation of the Bible, Pastor Anderson version of it. A “righteous” government Anderson’s teachings hold, is one that executes people based purely on religious sentimentalities and not the rule of law, nor the basic concept of humanism. Humanism a deeply entrenched concept in the practice of Botho.
Pastor Anderson advocates for the imposition of Old Testament laws literally, such laws include slavery, sexism, racism and religious war. Botswana is a secular State allowing for the open practice of religion and freedom of expression and association.
The “teachings” of Anderson go beyond the call for the understanding of his biblical interpretations by calling for their implementation thereby undermining the very foundation of Botswana’s constitutional democracy which is based on secularism and equality for all.
In contrast to government’s position on such hate filled “teachings”, political criticism is quickly sanctioned. Government cannot and should not be seen to be hypocritical when it comes to Freedom of Expression.
Political commentary and the exposure of corruption has been met with the deportation of Journalists in the 1990’s, deportation of academia, Professor Good, the raids and arrests on Media Houses and their Editors, The Sunday Standard, Outsa Mokone, The Botswana Gazette and its Editors Lawrence Seretse, Shike Olsen and journalist Innocent Selatlhwa, barring entry into Botswana of Advocate Gordon Bennet and Survival International director Stephen Cory and notably Julius Malema a politician from South Africa critical of the current Botswana Democratic Party’s government.
Botswana is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which upholds Freedom of Expression. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has stipulated that the right to freedom of expression must encompass “even expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive.” Under the convention, a State must justify restrictions on the right to freedom of expression based on the need to protect the rights of others. A state must further demonstrate “a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the threat (to other people’s rights)”. Pastor Stevens L Anderson “teachings” consequently and clearly fall within the limitation of this right of freedom of expression whilst political commentary does not. Under the convention in order to be lawful, restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must conform to the principles of “necessity” and “proportionality”. A restriction on freedom of expression must be tested against necessity, is it necessary in the sense that it is the only means of achieving the intended purpose and the protection of the rights of others, and that the restrictive measure imposed “must be the least intrusive instrument amongst those which might achieve their protective function.”
The United Nations cautions that illegal restrictions on freedom of expression, ostensibly justified by “national security”, “public order” and “public morality (the limitations under section 12 of the Constitution of Botswana is often used for anti-democratic purposes stating restrictions by the use of “‘hate speech’ laws have in the past been used against those they should be protecting.”
The selective approach to Freedom of Expression, be it based on political commentary, satire, religious fundamentalism, academic or legal commentary has no place in a democratic country. The old expression must apply “what is good for the goose is good for gander”.
“The strategic response to hate speech is more speech: more speech that educates about cultural differences; more speech that promotes diversity; more speech to empower and give voice to minorities, for example through the support of community media and their representation in mainstream media. More speech can be the best strategy to reach out to individuals, changing what they think and not merely what they do”