Botswana journalist fears persecution from a government that says he has nothing to fear

Journalist Edgar Tsimane says he faces danger if he returns to his home country of Botswana, where the government has criticized his reporting. The government in Botswana says it isn't out to get him and he can return anytime from South Africa, where he has sought asylum.

These days, two contradictory narratives are unfolding in Botswana, where President Ian Khama has begun a second five-year term after the long-dominant ruling party won re-election last month.

Botswana is known internationally as a stable democracy, praised for clean governance and sound economic policies despite high unemployment and other challenges. Yet opposition leaders and critics accuse Khama, a retired general, and his subordinates of increasingly authoritarian behavior.

"Botswana is under constant surveillance. People speak in hushed tones when strangers walk in," Tsimane, 43, said in an interview with The Associated Press in Centurion, outside Pretoria, the South African capital.

In a telephone interview, government spokesman Jeff Ramsay countered that Khama is committed to law and democracy and that Tsimane's claims that his life is in danger are ludicrous.

Botswana's opposing camps should engage each other to cool a national climate that has become increasingly tense, said Dimpho Motsamai, an analyst for the Institute for Security Studies, a research center based in Pretoria.

"When a society constantly hears messages from the opposition, from the press, about allegations that are sold as fact, of course it creates anxiety," said Motsamai, a Botswana citizen. "I feel the government is too reactive. They should engage with why people are so anxious."

Tsimane fled Botswana after writing an article in the local Sunday Standard newspaper that said the government covered up Khama's alleged involvement in a recent car accident. Botswana's government said a presidential secretary, not Khama, was in the reported accident, in which there were no injuries.

After the article was published Aug. 31, Tsimane said he feared for his life and fled to Pretoria.

In Botswana, police searched the newspaper's offices and briefly detained editor Outsa Mokone, but did not charge him. The detention was criticized by the U.S. government and media freedom organizations.

South Africa is expected to rule on Tsimane's request for permanent asylum this month.