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Botswana sees death penalty debate rekindled

December 12, 2022
topics: Death Penalty
by: Cyril Zenda
located in: Botswana, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe
tags: Bangladesh, Botswana, capital punishment, death penalty, women's rights

The authorities in Gaborone are accused of standing akimbo while a citizen accused of pushing drugs is being herded to the gallows in Dhaka.

The government of Botswana came under severe criticism for its alleged inaction on rescuing one of its citizens, Lesedi Molapisi, 30, who is detained in Bangladesh. Molapisi faces is currently on death row for allegedly trying to smuggle three kilogrammes of heroin into the country earlier this year.

In January, the Bangladeshi New Age newspaper reported that Molapisi was nabbed at Dhaka International Airport after she was allegedly found in possession of 3kg of a heroin-like granular substance after disembarking from a Qatar Airways flight that had arrived from South Africa via Doha. 

Bangladesh is one of the countries that retain the death for a broad range of offences, which it carries out regularly, according to a University of Oxford research. The research suggests that as of June 2021, the Asian nation had about 2,000 death row prisoners.

Governmental inaction

The case has outraged many, not just in Botswana, but in the whole southern African region, after it emerged that the government of President Mokgweetsi Masisi has not been doing anything to secure the release of Molapisi, or at least to save her from being sent to the gallows, something that governments are obligated doing do when their citizens face danger abroad.

Lesedi’s father, Goitsemodimo Molapisi told Newzroom Africa, a South African-based news platform that the Botswana government has not been helpful, the only assistance to his daughter coming from an African association in Bangladesh. The father said all his efforts to get any official information about his daughter from the government had been unsuccessful.

Molapisi’s situation has not been helped by the fact that Botswana is the only country in Southern Africa that has retained the death penalty, which it imposes for murder cases. Amnesty International says two people were executed in Botswana as recent as February this year.

Alarm Over Execution Reports

Alarm was raised on 25 November when unconfirmed media reports suggested that Molapisi was due to be executed on that day. Alice Mogwe, the director of Ditshwanelo - The Botswana Centre for Human Rights, told FairPlanet that there had been no reaction or communication by the government of Botswana on the plight of Molapisi.

Her local organisation immediately issued a statement in which it urged the authorities in Gaborone to intervene in the case. 

"DITSHWANELO is in the process of communicating with the Government of Botswana on this matter as we verify the facts surrounding the media reports concerning Ms Lesedi Molapisi," the centre stated. 

"Due to the secrecy which surrounds the death penalty in Bangladesh, information about an execution is made public after the execution has already been conducted. This is also the case in Botswana."

"We remain opposed to the use of the death penalty," the NGO went on. "This is because it is inhumane, it is not a deterrent and once implemented, it cannot be reversed. Unfair judicial processes, poor legal representation and police torture, prevent the accused from receiving a fair trial. We call upon the Government of Botswana to take the necessary action to ensure that Ms Molapisi is not executed."

The Centre for Human Rights Defenders of Zimbabwe (CHRDZ) chimed in to demand action on Molapisi’s case.

"CHRDZ does not support the death penalty and advocates for Molapisi to be handed a reformatory punishment," said the rights group, which fights for human rights in neighbouring Zimbabwe and more broadly in Africa.

Women And The Death Penalty

The 2021 World Day Against Death Penalty was marked under the theme "Women and the Death Penalty," and placed its focus on women who, like Molapisi, are at risk of being sentenced to death, as well as on women who received a death sentence, have been executed or had their death sentence commuted, exonerated or pardoned.

It was a moment for activists to highlight how prejudice, stereotypes, discrimination, inequality and other factors contribute to placing some women on the death row. Activists further stated that even in cases where women are not on death row themselves, capital punishment still affects them.

"Botswana remains the only country in Southern Africa which still carries out executions," noted Ditshwanelo in a statement to mark the day.

"The execution affects everyone," it added. "Children face the psychological trauma of knowing that their mother has been executed and that they will never see her again. These children are sometimes rejected because of societal stigma even though they are in need of psycho-social support, care and assistance."

Victims Of Structural Inequities

Activists with the International Federation for Human Rights (an NGO known by its French acronym FIDH and that is also directed by Alice Mogwe) say that most women who end up facing the death penalty are often victims of "structural inequalities," that exist especially in African society. 

"Discrimination based on sex and gender, often coupled with other elements of identity, such as age, sexual orientation, disability, and race, expose women to intersecting forms of structural inequalities," said FIDH.

"Such prejudices can weigh heavily on sentencing, including when women are stereotyped as an evil mother, a witch, or a femme fatale. This discrimination can also lead to critical mitigating factors not being considered during arrest and trial, such as being subjected to gender-based violence and abuse."

Higher Risk of Execution Abroad

Salient among the structural inequalities affecting many African women is that in addition to being poor, their ability to access education is heavily restricted compared to their male counterparts, which makes them vulnerable to manipulation. 

While globally women make about five percent of death row prisoners, and African women may not be at very high risk of execution at home, poverty has seen hundreds of them appearing on the death row abroad after being lured and/ or tricked into being drug mules. In fact, reports generated by Chinese media have suggested that 80 percent of foreigners arrested for drug trafficking were Africans. 

At the time of her arrest, Molapisi was unemployed; her father said he had learned of a letter written by a South Africa-based business to the Bangladeshi authorities requesting a visa for Molapisi to travel there in order to buy ready-made garments, which were to be resold back home.

The global stance on Abolition

Amnesty International states that as of the end of 2021, more than two-thirds of the world’s countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice, while a total of 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

More than half the independent states in Africa - 30 out of 54 States - have completely abolished the death penalty. Only three - Botswana, South Sudan and Somalia - have recently carried out an execution.

Some 28 countries worldwide are abolitionist in practice, meaning they have not executed anyone for at least 10 years. Another 56 countries are still retentionist, but this figure continues to dwindle.  

Image by Justice Humane.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Botswana Bangladesh Zimbabwe
In January, the Bangladeshi New Age newspaper reported that Molapisi was nabbed at Dhaka International Airport after she was allegedly found in possession of 3kg of a heroin-like granular substance
A research by the University of Oxford suggested that as of June 2021 Bangladesh had about 2,000 death row prisoners.
The case has outraged many, not just in Botswana, but in the whole southern African region, after it emerged that the government of President Mokgweetsi Masisi has not been actively trying to secure the release of Molapisi.
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