Journalist’s murder condemned



MASERU – The local media and several interest groups have condemned the killing of Tšenolo FM journalist, Ralikonelo Joki, who was shot dead by unknown assailants as he left the radio station premises in Maseru on Sunday night. Joki – an outspoken critic on national issues who focused on public corruption and human rights violations – hosted a popular current affairs programme ‘Hlokoana la tsela’ (I heard it on the grapevine). He had just finished his programme and was leaving his work premises when he was shot at the station’s gate.

Joki, popularly known as Leqhashasha to his myriad of listeners, was at the forefront of a campaign calling for accountability over government’s service delivery and spending. According to reports, Joki had lately received numerous death threats and was harassed both on air and on social media. This murder is the latest in a series of verbal attacks against journalists and human rights defenders expressing their views, and comes against a backdrop of rising political intolerance in the country.

On Monday this week, the Lesotho chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) issued a statement saying MISA Lesotho is shattered by the incident, “which flies in the face of freedom of expression and press freedom. The two twin cardinal tenets that underpin a functioning democracy which is the destination of Lesotho.”

In the statement MISA Lesotho chairman, Kananelo Boloetse, said the incident stands a travesty of the growth of the nation’s young and fledgling democracy.  Lesotho marks its 30th anniversary of a return to democracy in March 1993. He regretted that the killing happens just about two weeks after MISA Lesotho joined the world in commemorating the 30th anniversary of the World Press Freedom Day 2023.

“The several activities that underpinned the commemoration are still fresh in our minds. It cannot be that, as a vanguard for the protection of the journalists’ safety and security, this abhorrent and heartrending incident takes place on our soil. It is despicable and, therefore, is condemned in no uncertain terms.

“MISA Lesotho is party to the global world on the protection of journalists against any attacks, intimidations, harassment as well as murder. These acts are affronts to our attainment of democracy that is couched on pillars of free speech and a free press. They have the potential to instil fear in journalists as they execute their mandate to society,” he said. Also speaking to this reporter this week, Editors Forum of Lesotho chairman, Teboho Khatebe Molefi, strongly condemned the killing of the Tšenolo FM journalist and urged government to take action now to promote and protect the rights of the people to express their views freely.

Molefi stressed that the seriousness of the attack warrants a thorough public inquiry, and for the government to take active steps to promote tolerance, while government must also take seriously their obligation to promote a free and safe space for all forms of expression – if the murder has anything to do with the journalist’s media work. Meanwhile, UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, has also condemned the killing of the radio journalist. She urged authorities to investigate this crime and hold those involved to account. She said violent attacks on journalists must not be used to discourage them from conducting their fundamental work, on which all of society relies.

The Law Society of Lesotho has also issued a statement regarding the spate of killings in the country, stating that society is deeply troubled by the escalating wave of violence that has swept across the nation. The recent spate of killings in Lesotho is not just a statistic but a stark reminder of the lives lost, families shattered and communities living in fear, the society has said. “Our nation known for its tranquillity and the warmth of its people, now finds itself among the top six most murderous countries in the world.

“This is a reality we cannot, and should not accept. Each life lost to violence is a life too many. Each act of violence is a blow to the fabric of our society and the principles of peace, justice, and respect for human life that we hold dear.” In reaction to these recent killings, government has since taken the drastic step of imposing a curfew in Lesotho from 10:00pm to 4:00am indefinitely. But the society feels that “while we understand the urgency and the need for decisive action, the Law Society of Lesotho believes that it is not the way to go. A curfew may address the symptoms of the problem, but it does not address the root causes. It may bring temporary relief, but it does not bring lasting peace,” read the statement.”

UNESCO promotes the safety of journalists through global awareness raising, capacity building and by coordinating the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity. According to the United Nations projections, death rate report, Lesotho seems to be on number two of the data analysis of countries ranked by death rate in 2023 following Ukraine. The death rate was 13.960 in 2020 making the growth rate about -1.300 percent whereas the growth rate in 2023 is -1.350 percent, making the death rate 13.410.

Joki’s death is a chilling reminder of another near-fatal shooting of former Lesotho Times editor Lloyd Mutungamiri on July 9, 2016. The incident also happened when Mutungamiri was approaching his home at Ha Thamae from work. Amnesty International condemned the attack which left Mutungamiri nursing a shattered jaw and cut short his career. “Lloyd Mutungamiri’s world has been turned upside down since the shooting. He was forced to abandon his job and flee the country,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International director for Southern Africa.

The trial of suspects, who were apprehended, is yet to be concluded at the courts while Mutungamiri is in his home country Zimbabwe.

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