New York, July 13, 2016 - Lesotho authorities should launch a credible investigation into the shooting of veteran editor Lloyd Mutungamiri and bring all those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Mutungamiri is in critical condition in a hospital in South Africa, his employer told CPJ today.
An unknown number of assailants shot Mutungamiri, who is the editor of both the Lesotho Times and the Sunday Express, outside his home in the capital, Maseru, as he returned from work the night of July 9, according to news reports. His wife, Tsitsi Mutungamiri, found him on the ground next to his car after the shooting, she told the South African news website the Independent Online. Mutungamiri's attackers did not rob him, according to press reports.
Police on June 23 interrogated Mutungamiri regarding a news report about the head of Lesotho's military, according to press reports and the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network, an advocacy organization. He was released without charge the same day.
Also, Basildon Peta--the CEO of Africa Media Holdings, which publishes the Lesotho Times and the Sunday Express--faces criminal defamation charges in connection with a satirical column about the military published on June 23, according to press reports. Police briefly detained him on July 6 and released him on bail, the reports said. His trial is scheduled to begin on July 19.
"Rather than dedicating their time to harassing the Lesotho Times, we call on authorities to thoroughly investigate the vicious attack on Lloyd Mutungamiri," said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal. "When violence against journalists goes unpunished, the free flow of information is impeded, to society's detriment."
International human rights instruments and a growing body of international legal opinion clearly state that criminal defamation laws can have a chilling effect on speech, hampering the right to freedom of expression and the right to be informed. The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Pan African Parliament have urged African Union member states, which includes Lesotho, to repeal criminal defamation laws.
According to a report by Amnesty International, Mutungamiri was also charged with criminal defamation for critical reporting in 2014, but the case was never brought to court.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Paragraph six of this text has been modified to specify that criminal defamation laws can have a chilling effect on speech.