LESOTHO: Journalist forced to 'insult' prime minister in broadcast

Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Lesotho radio journalist charged with subversion told IRIN he was forced to broadcast a letter, on pain of death, denouncing the country's leader on his early morning radio show.

Thabo Thakalekoala, a freelance reporter and talk show host at Harvest FM, was arrested on the steps of the private radio station's offices in the capital, Maseru, after his broadcast on Friday. He appeared in court on Monday and was released on R1,000 (US$140) bail after being charged with subversion in terms of the 1984 Internal Security Act.

If found guilty, the journalist, who is also regional  chairman of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, a watchdog organisation, faces a fine of not less than R10,000 (US$1,400) or more than R100,000 (US$14,000) and/or a prison term of not less than five years or more than 20 years.

Thakalekoala said he read the letter on his early morning talk show, Rise and Shine, denigrating the prime minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, as the "the unwanted ruler of Lesotho" after death threats were made against him, "purportedly from [members of the] LNA [Lesotho National Army]".

"I did not feel right reading the letter, but I feared for my life," he said.

According to Thakalekoala, the bail conditions set by the court included a surety payment of R10,000 (US$1,400), he has to report to the Maseru police station each Friday evening, and has to refrain from speaking about the pending case, which has been postponed until 25 July. However, he was not barred from his job as a talk show host.

Communications minister Mothetjoa Metsing told IRIN there was a code of conduct for journalists, and "on the matter in question [Thakalekoala's arrest], we leave it in the hands of the court to take a decision on the matter."

Thakalekoala's broadcast of the letter, which also included allegations of corruption amongst the political elite, coincided with the lifting of a week-long 6pm to 6am curfew, imposed after "politically motivated" attacks on the homes of three government ministers and an opposition leader.

Election turmoil has not subsided

Political tensions in the country, which is surrounded by South Africa, have been rife since general elections earlier this year, when the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party romped into power amid opposition claims of impropriety.

The ruling LCD won 61 of the 80 directly contested seats, but the distribution of 40 seats under the proportional representation system is being disputed.

A mixed electoral system was introduced in 2002 to ensure representation for smaller parties and create a more inclusive system that would lead to more consensual, nation-building politics, after disputed elections in 1998 led to a military coup that was stopped by military intervention sponsored by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Fourteen political parties participated in the recent ballot, some of which would have been consigned to the political wilderness in a first-past-the-post system, but have been able to enter parliament under the new electoral formula.

Thakalekoala is also a contributor to the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Source: IRIN