Attacks on the Press 2000: Lesotho

ALTHOUGH LESOTHO’S CONSTITUTION GUARANTEES FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, it also provides for the protection of the “reputations, rights, and freedoms” of individuals. Criminal defamation statues reamin on the books, making independent journalism a difficult and expensive career.

Throughout the year, Lesotho struggled to cope with the economic impact of large-scale retrenchments in the South African mining industry, a key source of jobs for the impoverished country. On the political front, tension grew between government and opposition over the schedule for general elections, which were ultimately postponed until March, 2001.

In September, Lesotho’s 24-member multiparty Interim Political Authority (IPA) accused Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government of using delay as a tactic to influence the outcome of the vote. The IPA also raised questions about limitations on opposition access to state media, and lambasted authorities for hampering the work of journalists and human rights activists.

In May, authorities threatened drastic measures against Candi Ramainoane, manager of the radio station MoAfrika FM and editor of the weekly newspaper MoAfrika, after MoAfrika FM questioned government claims that a national strike by the country’s trade unions had been sparsely observed. And in October, Ramainoane lost an appeal of a crippling defamation judgment against his newspaper.

Authorities have made little effort to liberalize the tiny country’s press laws. Harsh colonial-era statutes governing media registration and licensing continue to impede the growth of the independent press, which is also limited by Lesotho’s sluggish economy and by political divisions among local journalists. Meanwhile, citizens remain dependent on radio and television stations in neighboring South Africa for a regular flow of more objective news at little or no cost.

MAY 16
Moafrika FM

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.

Moafrika was 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.

Moafrika FM covered the strike extensively, airing comments by citizens who had volunteered to report on protests in their neighborhoods.

The government promptly issued a statement claiming that Moafrika’s reports were false and that the station was promoting chaos in the country by giving a platform 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 workers may have stayed home on May 10.

On May 15, Foreign Minister Thomas Thabane spoke on the state-owned Radio Lesotho and said that his government planned to take “drastic measures” against Moafrika FM for inciting unrest.

At year’s end, according to Ramainoane, the government had not taken any legal action against Moafrika, despite its summons and other threats to do so.