On the evening of May 14, 2023, two attackers shot and killed Ralikonelo Joki, a radio host with the privately owned broadcaster Ts’enolo FM, as he drove out of the station’s premises 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 the 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.
At a press conference that day, Lesotho police spokesperson Mpiti Mopeli said Joki’s killing may have been related a dispute with one of the suspects over a personal issue over initiation schools, which handle boys’ circumcision and other cultural practices related to their transition to manhood. Mopeli did not rule out other factors that could have led to the journalist’s death, according to news reports.
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 she 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.
On August 23, 2023, Keiso told CPJ that she stood by her belief that Joki was killed for his work, and that the police had not adequately proved that the journalist was targeted due to a dispute over initiation schools.
Also in August 2023, Kananelo Boloetse, chair of MISA-Lesotho, told CPJ that his organization continued to believe that the attack may have been related Joki’s journalism, considering the threats he had received.
Joki’s brother, John Joki, also told CPJ that, despite authorities’ statements that the killing was related to a dispute over schools, the journalist’s family believed he was killed over his work that was critical of those in power.
On June 26, 2023, the four suspects in Joki’s killing appeared in court and pleaded guilty to the charge of murder. They later applied for bail, which the court denied, according to a court document reviewed by CPJ.
Joki, who was 44 years old, left a pregnant wife and three sons.