Independent radio station harassed over coverage of anti-government strike

New York, May 16, 2000 — Journalist Candi Ratabane Ramainoane, manager of the Maseru-based independent radio station Moafrika FM, received a hand-delivered summons to appear at the Ministry of Communication with a copy of his broadcasting license, sources in Lesotho told CPJ. The summons was delivered to the station today.

The station is accused of fueling anti-government sentiment by publicizing a massive nationwide strike held on May 10 to support demands for elections and the establishment of a government of national unity.

Several days before the strike, a man identifying himself as “the cannibal” called during one of Moafrika’s phone-in programs to urge Lesotho citizens to signal their displeasure with the government by staying away from work, CPJ sources said. Moafrika FM then covered the strike extensively, airing comments by citizens who had volunteered to report on protests in their neighborhoods.

The government promptly issued a statement saying that Moafrika’s reports were false and that the station was promoting chaos in the country by giving airtime to people with dubious political agendas. The authorities insisted that the mass protest movement had failed, although independent sources reported that as many as half the country’s workforce may have stayed home on May 10.

A week after the strike, police continue to maintain a massive presence throughout Lesotho’s capital, Maseru. On May 15, Foreign Minister Thomas Thabane said on Radio Lesotho, the state broadcaster, that the government planned to take “drastic measures” against Moafrika FM for inciting the population to unrest, CPJ sources reported.

In a telephone interview with CPJ, Moafrika’s manager Ramainoane urged the authorities to seek legal redress in court instead of resorting to “administrative violence.”

Ramainoane plans to appear at the Ministry of Communication, but is consulting with his lawyer in the meantime.

“Removing my broadcasting license is no remedy to Lesotho’s current political situation,” he said. “Rather, it’s a breach of the Constitution, which clearly states that the people of Lesotho have the right to free information. And as a medium of mass communication, Moafrika FM did nothing wrong but simply disseminated information.”