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Public flogging causes outrage

Two weeks ago Tebogo Malete was publicly flogged at a traditional court in Old Naledi, a village southeast of the Botswana's capital, Gaborone; a photograph of his punishment was published in the weekly newspaper, The Midweek Sun.

Malete, 27, a petty thief, had been sentenced to five lashes for housebreaking at the customary court presided over by the village headman. The humiliating newspaper photo showed him with his pants down and a police officer using a lash on his bare buttocks, sparking outrage in human rights circles.

In reaction, the government has issued a ban on the public flogging of convicted petty criminals by customary courts, but has refused to outlaw such punishment, attracting wide condemnation from human rights groups.

Ketsile Rathedi, the director of Tribal Administration responsible for the administration of justice in customary courts, held a meeting with all customary court presidents to caution them on the matter.

"It is disrespectful to expose someone's nakedness," said Rathedi. "I don't know how the picture was taken in the first place ... The procedure is that criminals should be flogged in private - it's degrading to expose people like that."

Rathedi said petty criminals would now be flogged in private offices, with only the accused and a police officer present to "avoid peeping Thomases", and added that Malete's pictures reflected badly on Botswana's image.

"Even though it is part of corporal punishment, other countries may think negatively of us and say we are brutal," he said.

The government justifies flogging on the grounds of tradition and popular support, despite a demand by the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, an NGO known as 'Ditshwanelo' in the local Setswana language, that the government repeal the law.

"What Ditshwanelo is saying is that the government should just come up with legislation that completely abolishes corporal punishment - making it a private issue does not mean anything," said an official from the organisation.

In March Botswana amended the law, which now allows female petty criminals to be flogged.

A delegation from the African Charter of Human Rights and People's Rights visited Botswana in February to advise the government on less degrading alternatives to corporal punishment.

Botswana has argued that flogging reduces overcrowding in its prisons. With 6,160 inmates, Botswana has almost double the number of prisoners its jails have been designed to hold.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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