Two privately owned newspapers in Lesotho—the Lesotho Tribune and Lesotho Times—faced separate lawsuits in February and March 2024, seeking to shut them down. (Screenshot: CPJ/Courtesy of Lesotho Tribune, Lesotho Times)

Lesotho courts dismiss lawsuits seeking closure of 2 newspapers, defamation cases ongoing

Two privately owned newspapers in Lesotho—the Lesotho Tribune and Lesotho Times—faced separate lawsuits in February and March 2024, seeking to shut them down, according to the publications’ owners who spoke to CPJ.

In late March, the courts dismissed both lawsuits, but the newspapers still face defamation cases in connection with their corruption coverage.

Mergence Investment Managers filed an urgent application at the High Court in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru, on February 9, for the Lesotho Tribune to delete published articles and block the publication of additional articles in a planned eight-part investigative series, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ and the publication’s owner, Phafane Nkotsi. The articles were about alleged corruption by Mergence in connection to Lesotho’s civil servants’ pension fund.

Mergence also asked the court to order the closure of Lesotho Tribune, arguing that the paper did not have the appropriate registration to operate. According to CPJ’s review of the certificate from Lesotho’s Office of the Registrar General, the newspaper’s registration is current and has been since August 10, 2021.

The court dismissed Mergence’s applications on March 22, Nkotsi said, adding that the outlet still faces a defamation lawsuit from the investment firm, filed on February 7, in which it is seeking 10 million loti (US$538,000) in relation to the investigative series, according to Nkotsi and a statement by the Lesotho chapter of the press freedom group the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).

The suit is still pending, and a hearing has yet to be scheduled, he said.

Matshona Libalele Mlungwana, a communication officer with the Public Officers’ Defined Contribution Pension Fund, declined to comment, saying that the fund had no interest in the case against Lesotho Tribune.

CPJ could not identify contact information for Mergence’s Lesotho offices. CPJ’s phone calls to Mergence’s South African numbers to request comment went unanswered.

In a separate case, Lesotho’s former police commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, filed an urgent application on March 18 asking the High Court to shut down Lesotho Times on the grounds that the newspaper was operating without the appropriate registration license and to order the outlet to pay unstated damages for defamation, according to a report by the newspaper and court documents, reviewed by CPJ. 

Molibeli accused the newspaper of defaming him in a March 7 report about allegations that he covered up fraud at a local energy company while serving as a police commissioner. The allegations were part of filings in a separate criminal case in which two local businessmen are accused of defrauding the energy company, according to a report by Lesotho Times, which said Molibeli denied the accusations.

On March 27, the High Court dismissed the application, according to Lesotho Times owner Basildon Peta and a report by the state-owned Lesotho News Agency. The court said the defamation suit was not urgent and could be heard at an undetermined date in the future, according to Peta. 

Reached by phone, Molibeli declined to comment.