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Botswana: Prisoner Takes Government to Court over Voting Rights

(July 16, 2009) It was reported on July 10, 2009, that Thomas Sibanda, an inmate in the Botswana prison system, is suing the government and seeking a court order to allow him to register to vote in the upcoming local government and parliamentary elections. His claim, which names the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Attorney General as defendants, also seeks that the court declare sections 6(1)(b) and 6(2) of the Electoral Act to be in contravention of the Botswana Constitution. (Lekopanye Mooketsi, Prisoner Seeks His Right to Vote, MMEGI ONLINE, July 10, 2009, available at

Section 6(1)(b) stipulates that no person will be allowed to register as a voter if a death sentence or a prison sentence exceeding six months has been imposed on him or her, notwithstanding the fact that the sentence was suspended or another form of punishment was substituted for it. Under section 6(2), two or more sentences for imprisonment to be served consecutively are to be considered as a single term for purposes of enforcing the above provision. (Electoral Act, 1968, 1 LAWS OF BOTSWANA, Cap. 02:09 (rev. ed. 2005) (official source).)

Sibanda hopes that the court will declare that the Constitution's section 3 on fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, section 12 on protection of freedom of expression, section 13 on protection of freedom of assembly and association, and section 15 on protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, among other sections, supersede the Electoral Act and guarantee his right to vote. (Mooketsi, supra; Constitution of Botswana, 1 LAWS OF BOTSWANA (rev. ed. 2005).)