Tumoil over Cyber Bill continues


  • Reinstated draft described as draconian


MASERU – The reinstatement of the controversial Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill (2022) has created a new wave of commotion among citizens, civil society and the media fraternity.

While some people believe that it will finally curb cyber-crime and bullying, civil society and the media fraternity are concerned and urge that some sections be revised as the Bill stands to shrink the civic, media and political spaces as they violate some human rights, including freedom of expression, right to privacy and freedom from random search and attack. Keiso Mohloboli is one of the local journalists who is a victim of cyber-bullying where she received death threats and intimidation online that resulted in her going into exile. In an interview with this paper, Mohloboli said in June 2016, she received death threats through Facebook after publishing a post and a Facebook user operating under the name ‘Lawrance Kori’ commented on her post threatening her and saying her death was imminent.

She said investigations that were undertaken then revealed that the Facebook page was believed to be operated by the National Security Services (NSS) and used to monitor Facebook posts from people believed to be enemies of the state.

She further stated that ominously, sources from the Military Intelligence confirmed that indeed the account was operated by the NSS and advised that the threats be taken seriously.

After the threats, in July the same year, Mohloboli fled to South Africa after being arrested and interrogated in relation to an article she published in Lesotho Times which saw her then editor, Lloyd Mutangamiri, being shot and seriously injured.

Mohloboli reported the matter to Amnesty International which urged the Lesotho authorities to take immediate measures on the matter and ensure her safety and protection.

Amnesty International also advised Lesotho authorities to conduct investigations on the alleged death threats and bring perpetrators to book. It also directed them to ensure journalists’ and media workers’ safety and enable them to be able to do their work without fear of threats, intimidation and harassment and guarantee the integrity of journalists and media workers against attacks or threats.

Mohloboli told Public Eye that her efforts to get justice and protection from the authorities were futile. Asked how she was able to stay safe and how the incident affected her, Mohloboli said she got safety tips and support from a human rights defenders’ network in Africa and abroad. “What I mostly used was to not share my whereabouts on social media, not to post my house, my car and my son on the internet. Encryption helped me protect sensitive information from unauthorized access, theft and other security threats.

“As a journalist, I have been using my gadgets and devices to store information and encrypted sensitive information from sources to ensure that even if it falls into wrong hands, it cannot be easily read or understood,” she said. Mohloboli said because of the incident, to date she still has trust issues. She said she is more sensitive and observant and has become anti-social which she believes is not a good thing as she is a journalist who needs to be out mingling and interacting with people.

With regard to getting protection and authorities addressing the issue, she said nothing was done noting that the then government rejected to take responsibility on the matter concerning state’s security institution. She said she was told that the people that threatened her and her then editor were rebels not soldiers. Mohloboli said the answer was not satisfactory to her and she believes it was just an answer of convenience where issues like hers would only be used for politicians to gain political mileage but fail to address health difficulties caused by the threats.

She further stated that the incident not only affected her but also her family that have to live in fear because of the traumatic experience. Urging for the revision of the Bill is Transformation Resource Centre (TRC). At the 75th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Right(ACHPR), Advocate Mokitimi Tšosane, on behalf of TRC, presented human rights issues around the Computer Crimes and Cybersecurity Bill and recommended the Lesotho government to review and rework the Bill considering comments received from all stakeholders, including the public and private sector as well as the legal profession, academia and information security practitioners in line with Section 20(a) of the Constitution.

Tšosane said the Computer Crimes and Cybersecurity Bill has an element that justifies overreaching of enforcement powers, suffocating the essence of a responsive democracy including freedom of expression and speech among others.

“As we celebrate 30 years of the democratic constitution, it is with great concern that there is lurking in our midst, the Computer Crimes and Cybersecurity Bill, which has elements that justify overreach of enforcement powers suffocating the very essence of a responsive democracy, freedom of expression and speech and the right to be free from intrusion and interference by the state and others deriving from the right to privacy.

In the Bill, the government risks excluding the general public from the greater information society in this information era. The Bill encompasses sections meant to undermine and erode the right to privacy, freedom from arbitrary search and seizure of property, freedom of expression and access to information and the right to a fair trial. These provisions have the potential to shrink the civic, media and political spaces,” Tšosane noted.

Tšosane, therefore, recommended the government to ensure that sections meant to undermine human rights mentioned be deleted entirely and also ensure that the cybersecurity regulation is informed by the revised principles of the ACHPR declaration on freedom of expression and access to information which recognises the internet as a right.

He further articulated that it is important that the Cyber Bill complies with the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection. “Ensure that media is free and secure to ensure that media can play a role in promoting sustainable growth and regional integration,” Tšosane recommended. Section 24 (1)(a) states that a person who intentionally, without lawful excuse alters or damages computer data so as to make it meaningless or less ineffective or interferes with lawful use of computer data commits an offense and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding M5 000 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or both.

Section 24 (2) (b) reads: “A person who intentionally and without lawful excuse accesses or destroys any computer data for purposes of concealing information necessary for an investigation into the commission or otherwise of an offense commits an offense and is liable on conviction, to a fine not exceeding M5 000 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or both.”

National Director at MISA Lesotho, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, in an interview with Public Eye noted that MISA is not happy with the Bill noting that despite it being a very technical Bill that will be very hard to implement once turned into a law, fines are not proportional to imprisonment giving one an impression that it is a trap enacted to target certain people so that without fail they can be imprisoned.

Ntsukunyane said the fines are unreasonable and draconian.

He said the during drafting of the Bill, public consultation which is a constitutional requirement when drafting a bill was not conducted. He further stated that the Bill should clarify what “lawful authority” means in the context of journalists whose role is to inform the public and hold those in power to account.

“This means that a journalist who will be found publishing a story which is regarded to entail ‘unauthorised’ information will be taken to prison or demanded to pay a fine of millions which they will obviously not afford. “Why should we not believe that this law is made so that targeted people are imprisoned,” he said. He, however, said MISA is studying the new Bill which is claimed to have been revised and will give its stance at a later stage. On the other hand, Mamats’eliso Makhetha from Matsieng believes that the Bill will address online bullying which she is a victim of.

She said some time last year she was bullied on Facebook after demanding that the father to her daughter should support their child. Makhetha said friends to her then boyfriend started bullying and calling her names. She said there was nothing she could do then but had to withstand the bullying but now she is hopeful that finally legal action will be taken against cyber bullies.

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