Freedom of the media practitioners has always been a topical issue worldwide with hundreds of journalists persecuted, murdered and unfairly arrested.
The struggle with journalists subjected to unfair tortures, killed in cold blood and unfairly locked up in jail has not ended as Lesotho media woke up to terrifying news earlier this week that a Radio presenter Ralikonelo “Leqhashasha” Joki was gunned down in cold blood on Sunday evening.
The murder of Joki came just 11 days after the world stood up to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2023 under the theme: Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights.
Consequently, the unprecedented murders against journalists cast a cloud of doubt on the safety of journalists in Lesotho as this misgiving is seen throughout the world.
Several events unfolded in the past few years that conspicuously placed the lives of journalists at peril.
The former editor of a local newspaper, Lesotho Times Newspaper Lloyd Mutungamiri in 2016 was sprayed with bullets at Ha Thamae which reportedly one shattered his jaws. His attempted murder trial is ongoing at the Magistrate Court.
Mutungamiri was forced to retire from practicing his craft thereafter.
While the media freedom environment in the country proves to continue to depreciate, on November 17, 2021, police raided People’s Choice FM to quiz a journalist, one Teboho Ratalane over a story he had reported.
It follows that in the same month on November 9, 2021, gunmen attacked the family of veteran journalist, Marafaele Mohloboli, and seriously injured her husband.
The motive of the attack is still unknown. While in the same note on November 14, 2021, Lebese Molati, from 357FM, was detained and allegedly choked by police after he reported on alleged missing guns.
According to a 2021-2022 freedom of expression report released by the United Nations Educations, Scientific, Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in January this year, recorded the deaths of 86 journalists last year, amounting to one every four days, up from 55 killings in 2021
A seasoned Journalist working at the Lesotho News Agency (LENA), Majirata Latela, says the journalists in the country are not safe as prior events have also proven so.
“In my opinion I would say that the journalists are not safe in Lesotho. We have wake up to many reports and many incidents where journalists end up skipping the country following threats to be questioned about their stories while some go to court in relation to their stories.
“As much as we don’t know why Joki was killed but at the end of the day, he is a journalist and it says a lot about our safety,” she said.
Asked whether journalists put their lives at danger through political affiliation and controversial reporting she indicated that the endeavour to associate with politicians as well as being biased in journalism reporting puts many journalists’ lives at peril.
“We have seen in the country that censorship in the country is high and some journalists are relying on politics without reporting factually. That has put a challenge on our reporting, being factual and not being biased because if one wears political party regalia and announcing which party they follow, that hinders a journalist to report in a factual manner. Our reporting is crippled by biased journalists and that’s a challenge in our country that needs mitigation.
“We need to take responsibility of our actions; if one report none factual news they are not safe because politicians are violent who can threaten journalists, but also there are some journalists who have received threats and warnings only for reporting factual news,” she said.
She added that medication to the matter could be that media practitioners be remembered of their responsibility when reporting.
“Mitigating the accruing could be that journalists be educated about reporting factual news because most of them do not do that. One must find news, facts and report and support them. We should also stop announcing our political affiliation. Ethically we don’t have to announce ourselves,” she said.
She continued: “We plead that the reforms be passed as they are because the media industry is at peril. Those in the Omnibus Bill should be passed as they are so that we are able to fight censorship in the country and sweep our house.”
Her comment on the Computer Crime and Security Bill is that some sections need to be reviewed as they imposed heavy fines and poses a serious damage to the industry of journalism.
“I like the cyber security bill because it has both the positives and negatives and if the bill is passed as it is, journalism will be in serious danger.
“There are some sections that are meant to cripple the journalism industry so that they are unable to do their job. The fines are unfair and I think some sections be reviewed and see how they affect freedom of the media and press,” she said.
A media expert and former Government Secretary Nthakeng Selinyane understands that the lives of journalists in the country are not at peril since the death of Joki might have been motivated by other ulterior motives irrelevant to the profession.
“From where I stand we don’t have a routine hounding or harassment of journos by the State or different constituents of political, civil society or individual consumers of media products.
“So it is easy for me to say Lesotho is currently safe for the profession, baring extreme cases like Joki which has its own nuances which are better left unsaid for now,” he said
Asked whether journalists put their lives at danger through political affiliation and controversial reporting, he stipulated that… “Journalism and political affiliation or the intimacy of media and politics is a well-established tradition, and their extremes like the fake news marriage of the Fox News and President Donald Trump in the United States aren’t uncommon.”
“Indeed we have witnessed such in Lesotho in the proximity of MoAfrika FM and Tšenolo FM with the extremist regime of 2015 to 2017 in Lesotho! But journos don’t necessarily endanger themselves by aligning with partisan politics.
“Indeed the most attractive content in places like Lesotho is politics and anyone who shuns it won’t survive long, and dabbling in that cannot leave one insulated from affections. What matters is how one mixes that affection with ethics, and a wrong mix can sometimes produce extreme outcomes,” he said.
Asked whether he believes the Reforms can help eradicate the accruing murders perpetuated against journalists, he said… “Reforms start and end in the hearts and minds of women and men, in government, politics and civil society alike and how much they subscribe to them and practice their edicts.”
“Just bend to those values that informed the Reforms, observe and uphold them-with or without the Reforms,” he continued.
The guru believes that the Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill, 2022 needs to be reviewed before being passed before the Parliament. The Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Nthati Moorosi last week made a proposal before the National Assembly that the said Bill is reinstated from the stage it was before the dissolution of the Tenth Parliament. The Bill was waiting for Royal Ascend.
“Its intruding provisions are already known to media and freedom of expression enthusiasts, they have been widely canvassed and its extremist provisions of search and seizure and possession or access to state information, espionage et al, send draconian penalties which the State departments themselves cannot afford. It needs revisiting,” he said.
Some of the draconian clauses in the bill include the provisions of Section 26 which talks about Data Espionage and articulates that a person who, intentionally without lawful excuse or justification or in excess of a lawful excuse or justification obtains for himself or for another, computer data which are not meant for him and which are specially protected against unauthorized access, commits and offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding M12, 000,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding seventeen years or both.
“Section 39; Disclosure of details of investigations (Any person who receives an order to a cyber-crime investigation that explicitly stipulates that confidentiality is to be maintained, or such obligation is state by law, and intentionally without lawful excuse discloses, commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or a fine not exceeding M2, 500 000 or both.)
“Section 43, Criminal Defamation (A person who publishes information or data presented in a picture, text, symbol or any other form of computer system knowing that such information or data is false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate and with the intent to threaten abuse, insult, mislead or deceive the public or conceals commission of such an offense, commits an offense liable on conviction, to a fine not exceeding M500, 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or both).
“Section 59; Search and Seizure (If a law enforcement officer that is undertaking a search under this section has grounds to believe that the date sought is stored in another computer system or part of it in the Kingdom of Lesotho and such data is lawfully accessible from, or available to, the initial system, he is empowered to expeditiously extend the search or similar accessing to the other system,” part of the bill reads
However, the Minister Communications, Moorosi believes that it is too early to comment about Joki’s untimely passing as investigations have not been completed.
“We all know what happened about happened to Joki but we don’t know what motivated his death. We can’t make remarks until we know whether it was through his profession as a journalist or his personal matters because he was a father, husband and or a farmer, we don’t know why he was killed so we can’t speculate that he was killed for doing his job as a journalist,” she said.
Asked whether it is not advisable to review some of the clauses in the bill, she stated that the bill is going to help the journalists; therefore, it must be given a chance.
“Let’s give the Bill a chance to pass before parliament because those sections are going to help the media fraternity, then we will make amendments where we see that they do not work as planned,” she said.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho made a statement after the incidence that they are devastated by the matter which flies in the face of freedom of expression and press freedom calling for speedy of justice for Joki’s death.
“The two are twin cardinal tenets that underpin a functioning, democracy, which is the destination of Lesotho.
“It cannot be that, as a vanguard for the protection of the journalist’s safety and security, this abhorrent and heartrending incidence takes place on our soil. It is despicable and therefore condemned in no uncertain terms.
“MISA-Lesotho is party to the global world on the protection of journalists against any attacks, intimidation, harassment as well as murder. These acts are an affront to our attainment of democracy that is couched on pillars of free speech and press. They have the potential to instil fear on journalist as they execute their mandate to society.
“It is our fervent hope that justice will be speedily served and assassins of Mr Joki will be apprehended and face the wrath of the law.
According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Joki received at least three death threats from different Facebook accounts in March and April related to his work as a journalist and according to screenshots reviewed by the Committee and Tšenolo FM’s station manager, Mshengu Tshabalala, and program manager, Retšepile Maloi, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app, the threats did not cite specific reporting.
“Authorities in Lesotho must thoroughly investigate the killing of Tšenolo FM host Ralikonelo ‘Leqhashasha’ Joki and ensure those responsible are brought to justice,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York.”
Quintal maintains that Authorities must send a clear signal to those who believe they can attack or kill journalists without consequence that, in Joki’s case at least, there will be swift accountability.
As a response towards the shootings the government has imposed a country-wide curfew beginning on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., and this was televised on Lesotho TV on Monday by the Minister of Police Lebona Lephema.