Calls for a full, independent and transparent investigation into the killing of Tšenolo FM journalist Ralikonelo Joki are mounting with international organization demanding that those responsible be held to account.
Joki, described as a “brave journalists” and popularly known as Leqhashasha, was ambushed by unknown assailants and reportedly shot at least 13 times as he left the studio after 9pm on May 14.
The tragic event has sparked outrage locally and internationally with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) director general, Audrey Azoulay, saying she deplored the killing.
“I deplore the killing of Ralikonelo Joki. I urge authorities to investigate this crime and hold those involved to account. Violent attacks on journalists must not be used to discourage them from conducting their fundamental work, on which all of society relies,” Azoulay said on Wednesday.
“Unidentified assailants are reported to have fired at least 13 bullets at Joki, while he was driving away from his place of work. The journalist, who hosted a regular current affairs program on Tsénolo FM, is also reported to have received death threats in connection with his work in recent months,” she added.
She stated that UNESCO promotes the safety of journalists through global awareness-raising, capacity building, and by coordinating the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SouthernDefenders) has also called on the Lesotho authorities to thoroughly investigate the killing of Joki, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
“SouthernDefenders strongly condemns the attacks and murders of journalists in Lesotho, a national phenomenon which has been recurring for many years with widespread impunity,” the group said in a statement.
It said it was unacceptable that individuals who independently and impartially choose to exercise their right to freedom of speech and media freedom by speaking on issues of public importance were being targeted and subjected to attacks and killings
“Therefore, the authorities must take charge and send a clear signal to those who believe they can kill or attack journalists for executing their duties,” it said.
“SouthernDefenders urges the Lesotho authorities to take immediate action by carrying out an independent and impartial investigation into the killing of Joki, and any other journalist who have suffered attacks, with a view to bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards,” it added.
In July 2016, the then editor of Lesotho Times and Sunday Express, Lloyd Mutungamiri, was ambushed as he arrived and attempted to open the gate at his home after finishing duty at the Sunday Express on 9 July 2016.
Mutungamiri told the Magistrate Court in Maseru last year that he had undergone multiple operations to repair injuries from bullets that hit his body including the face.
Five members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) were arrested for the attack, but after continued delays four of them are expected to stand trial later this year.
The Botswana Movement for Democracy also condemned in the strongest terms possible the shooting and killing of “one of Lesotho’s arguably most influential private radio journalists”, Joki.
It said in a statement yesterday: “Botswana Movement for Democracy appeals to the civil society and indeed Southern African Development Community (SADC) to stand in unison and unreservedly condemn this blatant disrespect of freedom of the press, freedom of speech and a total disregard of human life and Human Rights that continues to plague the nation of Lesotho especially its media sector.
“It is particularly worrying that Lesotho, to date, is still grappling with the most embarrassing, uncalled-for and unnecessary issue of media freedom violations and despotism including unwarranted raids on private media houses, torture of innocent journalists and in worst cases, similar to that of Joki, assassinations of private media journalists, who are deemed ‘too critical’ of government or some politicians.”
A local media rights group, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho released statement on Monday saying it was shattered by Joki’s killing, “which flies in the face of freedom of expression and press freedom”.
MNN Center for Investigative Journalism on Tuesday said it condemned “this cowardly act” that silenced Joki and implored the Lesotho government and police to investigate and bring his killers to justice speedily.
“It is our fervent belief and hope that this cowardice will not deter our colleagues in the media fraternity from discharging their duty to this great nation. We must continue to hold power to account,” the Center said in a statement.