- Two journalists from Lesotho's independent weekly 'Mopheme' sustained serious injuries as they were attacked by a street mob protesting to the police. Also, the independent newspaper and radio station 'Moafrika' is reported to be under attack from the government.
On the morning of 2 July, Basotho journalists went to cover unfolding events in the main Maseru bus-stop area where evicted street vendors were protesting to the police, who wore protective clothing and were armed with pump action shotguns, and to members of Maseru City Council about their eviction from the streets of Maseru.
According to a report by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a gunshot then rang out from the side of the police and the City Council members and the protests escalated into a violent situation.
Street vendors resorted to throwing stones, vandalising and torching shops and businesses in and around that area. About six shops, one church and at least one vehicle were vandalised. The vendors also proceeded to the central business district of Maseru where they vandalised two more shops. Many of them were bundled into police vehicles, whilst being assaulted by police during the process.
During the rampage, T'sepiso Mncina, a female journalist from 'Mopheme', an independent weekly English newspaper in Lesotho, sustained grievous bodily injuries and was immediately rushed to hospital, while Thabo Thakalekoala, the sub-editor of the same publication and the Chairperson of MISA Lesotho (MILES), sustained a minor injury to the knee cap.
The injuries were inflicted upon the media practitioners by the street vendors who seemingly did not fully comprehend the role of the press in the situation notably that the press was also interacting with Maseru City Council personnel as well as the police on matters of clarification.
- MILES' first reaction has been the issuing of an alert, while other modalities are being considered to deal with the situation, the Basotho media watchdog said in a statement today.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit on HIV/AIDS is currently being hosted at the National Convention Centre south of Maseru, while at the same time, the Kingdom of Lesotho is preparing for the official visit of the British Princess Anne. Street vendors were evicted from the streets days before the summit began and they were of the view that they were being evicted to give Maseru a more tidy appearance.
'Moafrika' owner threatened
Meanwhile, another incident in the Basotho kingdom is concerning media watchdogs, who fear for safety of the owner of 'Moafrika'. Director Candi Ratabane Ramainone is facing actions by the Maseru police for slow down payments of a fine from a dubious libel suite.
Although 'Moafrika' had begun to pay a fine (of about 20,000 euros) from a libel suit taken up in the year 2000 in instalments, three Lesotho high court sheriffs went to the offices of the radio station on 16 June with an execution writ, threatening to seize all the movable equipment of the radio station and newspaper and the editor's personal property if the fine was not paid in full on the spot.
These sheriffs returned on 25 June, putting seals on the radio station's computers and broadcasting equipment, and warning station director Ratabane Ramainone that they would return the following day to collect everything, according to reports from the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
- Given the reduced financial capacities of any Lesotho news media, such coercive measures taken by the Lesotho judicial system are completely unjustified and amount to intimidation, said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. The IFJ today condemned these "threatening actions of the Maseru police."
Furthermore, Mr Ratabane Ramainone says he received an "invitation" to the offices of the Chief of the Maseru police, Senior Superintendent Keketso Kholokholo, without any particular reason, only to stipulate that he should report himself without fail.
Due to Moafrika's strongly critical approach to some actions by the Lesotho government, the IFJ is concerned about the possibility that the judicial system is exercising undue pressure that amounts to an infringement of press freedom.
Currently, Mr Ratabane Ramainone's lawyer fears that the police could detain him until Monday (7 July), so as to remove him from the station. There are serious fears for his safety. As a result, the IFJ is calling on the Lesotho authorities to respect press freedom and to curb the unjustified actions of the police.
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