In separate incidents in November and December 2023, two politicians in Botswana posted to social media the personal phone numbers of journalists Kabo Ramasia and Kealoboga Dihutso after the reporters sought to interview them.
The unwanted publication of personal information online—known as doxxing—is an increasingly common form of digital harassment of the press.
On November 23, 2023, Botswana’s Assistant Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Beauty Morukana Manake, published screenshots of a WhatsApp conversation with Ramasia, in which the journalist’s phone number was visible, on her Facebook page, which has over 63,000 followers, according to Ramasia, who spoke to CPJ, a statement by the Botswana chapter of the press freedom group Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), and CPJ’s review.
On February 1, 2024, the post was still live and contained screenshots of Manake’s conversation with Ramasia, who asked Manake for comment on allegations that she was “abusing” her office, including by arriving late at events.
In the screenshots, Manake said the allegations were baseless and part of a “witch-hunt.” Manake also said that she had been “abused and weaponized by people using the media for their selfish ‘political gains.’”
Ramasia told CPJ that he had called Manake, asking her to conceal his identity or delete the post, and that she had requested an apology, which the journalist declined to give.
Manake told CPJ that she felt unfairly treated by the journalist and accused Ramasia of deliberately attempting to tarnish her image.
On December 19, 2023, Madibelatlhopo, a group that campaigns against election rigging and is affiliated with the opposition party Umbrella for Democratic Change, published Dihutso’s phone number on its Facebook page, which has over 10,000 followers, according to MISA, CPJ’s review, and Dihutso, who spoke to CPJ.
Dihutso’s phone number was included in a series of screenshots showing a WhatsApp exchange in which Dihutso, a reporter with the privately owned Duma FM, sought comment from Madibelatlhopo’s spokesperson, Michael Keakopa, about the group’s registration as a private company and its shareholding.
As of February 1, 2024, the Facebook post was still live, along with commentary suggesting that Dihutso was an intelligence agent and a member of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party. Facebook commentators also accused him of being “naive and malicious” and claimed that Duma FM was founded on the “proceeds of crime.”
MISA said “indiscriminate sharing of [the journalists’] personal data” contravened their right to privacy under Botswana’s constitution and its Data Protection Act, and created “a hostile environment” for reporting.
Under the country’s data protection law, a person who processes sensitive personal data without permission is guilty of an offense and is liable to a fine not exceeding 500,000 pula (USD$36,500) and/or up to nine years imprisonment.
In a statement, the Botswana Editors Forum said Madibelathlopo’s comments were an “attempt to discredit or attack journalists for simply practicing their trade.”
Dihutso told CPJ he had reported the post containing his phone number to Facebook.
In response to CPJ’s request for comment via messaging app in early January, Keakopa accused a CPJ staff member of being connected to Botswana intelligence, said “I’m going to publish this conversation for Batswana to know what I discuss with so called journalists just as I did with that other pseudo,” and told the staff member to “never send me stupid messages again.” Keakopa did not respond to subsequent queries from CPJ.