On the evening of May 14, 2023, unidentified people shot and killed Ralikonelo Joki, a radio host with the privately owned broadcaster Ts’enolo FM, in the Lesotho capital city of Maseru.
At about 10 p.m., Joki finished presenting a show about the prolonged closure of local agriculture schools and drove out of station’s gate, where one attacker shot him through the driver’s side of his vehicle and another fired from the opposite side, according to multiple news reports, his supervisor Rets’epile Maloi, and station manager Mshengu Tshabalala, who both spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Joki lost control and crashed his car, and the gunmen continued firing at him, in total shooting him once in the head and 13 times in the body, according to those sources and a statement by the Lesotho chapter of the regional press freedom group Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
Nothing was stolen from the scene, Maloi told CPJ. Joki was declared dead by members of the Lesotho Defense Force, Tshabalala said on a Tsénolo FM broadcast.
Joki covered government, politics, alleged corruption, and other topical issues on his Hlokoana-La-Tsela (I Heard It Through the Grapevine) radio program, and in podcasts posted on the privately owned outlet Lesotho Tribune’s YouTube channel, where he previously worked, said freelance journalist Poloko Mokhele.
He was widely known for breaking a 2021 story about five politicians who were illegally trading alcohol that resulted in the expulsion of seven Lesotho diplomats from South Africa. He was fondly known as "Leqhashasha," loosely translating to smart and brave, owing to his efforts to address ineffective government policy and corruption, according to media reports.
The journalist received at least three death threats from different Facebook accounts in March and April related to his journalism, according to screenshots reviewed by CPJ. The quotes did not cite any specific reporting, but referenced his work, with one stating: “Visionless journalists like comrade Leqhashasha who handle news with hatred and biasness die mercilessly.”
Investigative journalist Keiso Mohloboli, who was friends with Joki, said he believed the killing was connected to Joki’s work, citing those threats. The messages reviewed by CPJ were sent using seemingly false names. The accounts themselves have since been deleted, Mohloboli said.
Kananelo Boloetse, chair of MISA-Lesotho, told CPJ that the motive behind Joki’s killing was unclear, but the organization had “every reason to believe he was attacked in relation to his work following threats on his life on Facebook.”
On the night of May 15, Minister of Police Lebona Lephema announced a country-wide curfew in response to the shooting. Lephema also announced that Joki’s killing was being investigated.
Ts’enolo FM Radio is offering a 120,000 maloti (US$6,245) reward for anyone with information that can lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, Maloi told CPJ.
CPJ contacted Lesotho Police spokesperson Mpiti Mopeli and Lesotho Defense Force spokesperson Sakeng Lekola via messaging app but did not immediately receive any replies.
According to Maloi, Joki, who was 44 years old, left a pregnant wife and three sons.