It appears that Botswana president Ian Khama intends to sue a newspaper for linking him to an assassination. But, asks Mmegi in an editorial, should a president go to court in this way? After all, he himself is protected from legal action.

Mmegi writes in an editorial:

Unconfirmed information is that President Ian Khama intends to sue the Sunday Standard on account of a story that wanted to link him to the alleged assassination or murder of John Kalafatis.

We must respect due process, and we will not attempt any legalistic argument for or against the apparent intentions of the President.

It will be important, in any case, to ask whether the President, who is not subject to legal action against himself, should enjoy every ordinary citizen's right to sue. The law places him beyond suit.

Where then is justice if a man or woman who is, for all intents and purposes, beyond the law, enjoys the 'ordinary' citizen's right to sue his subject, so to speak?

It does appear that the country, should the President sue, will be faced with ethical considerations of whether the leading champion of a democratic state should be permitted – even for perfectly valid legal reasons – to threaten the democratic process by putting the press before the courts.

Surely common sense dictates that the President should not, or cannot, be allowed to lose a case against the average plebeian. Put another way, there is no way that the President should be allowed to lose a case against a civilian, for the very same reason that he has been placed beyond trial before the courts in the same way as the ordinary citizen would be required.

Let us put it plainly. Why should one citizen have the right to take another to court when he is not subject to the same?

Secondly, should it not be considered that one who is beyond the law should be kind to those who are subject to it? Should it not be expected of a President who is not subject to trial to wish the same for an integral part of the democratic system that brought him or her to power?

Fiinally, we should, even if we were party to the promotion of the possibility that the President might have played some role in the demise of Kalafatis, emphasise that one of the main pillars of journalism is to check – always – that what we publish will not result in undue harm to democracy, the people of the land, or perhaps even to the chosen leader of the people, regardless of our perception of his manner of service to the nation.

* This editorial first appeared in Mmegi on 25 May 2009.