July 24, 2003

Death penalty administration condemned

The execution of a convicted murderer this month has re-opened the controversy over the administration of the death penalty in Botswana.

Lehlohonolo Bernard Kobedi was hanged on 18 July in what has been described as a "secret" execution, which has been condemned by Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights. "Mr Kobedi was executed without the knowledge of his lawyers. Advocates for Mr Kobedi were not allowed to see him in the days before his execution," explained Ditshwanelo director, Alice Mogwe. "Mr Kobedi formally requested, in writing, that Ditshwanelo be allowed to visit him and we had requested, in writing, permission to visit. The commissioner of prisons denied us access to Kobedi," she said.

During the 10 years since Kobedi was first arrested in 1993 for the murder of a policeman, Ditshwanelo complained of the alleged irregularities and lack of proper legal process that characterised the case. In the five years since his initial trial when he was sentenced to death, Kobedi was represented by four different sets of lawyers and spent 56 months on death row. In January 2003, the Court of Appeal rejected his suit because of procedural technicalities, shifting the moral responsibility for his case to the Clemency Committee and President Festus Mogae. In its opinion in March, the Court of Appeal urged the president to consider clemency: "We respectfully draw the attention of the [Clemency] Committee to the submissions made on behalf of the appellant to this court as to his state of physical and mental health ... and that he has been incarcerated on death row [for 56 months]." The Clemency Committee does not make public the reasons for its decisions, nor provide a timetable for reaching judgements. "

In February 1999 and June 2003, Ditshwanelo made formal requests to the Office of the President for basic information regarding the workings of the Clemency Committee. To date, we have not received a response," said Mogwe. There is no definite record of clemency ever having been granted in Botswana. "We urge the government of Botswana to act to reform the pro deo [legal representation] system, so future defendants do not have to suffer the irregularities and lack of expertise which marked Mr Kobedi's initial trial," she stressed. Since independence in 1966, there have been 35 executions in Botswana. (IRIN)

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