Intimidation of journalists: Lesotho called to order

 

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – The Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has urged the government to put an end to threats and intimidation against journalists and human rights defenders, Public Eye can reveal. UN Human Rights Office said the government should promote freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in the constitution, by retracting the notion of the “crime of sedition” from the Penal Code Act of 2010.

Section 76 of the penal code states that a person who, with a number of other people, comes together in an unlawful gathering with the intention of defying or subverting the authority of the government, but without the intention to overthrow or coerce the government, commits an offence of sedition. The Act further states that a person who utters any seditious words, prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication or knowingly imports any seditious publication, commits an offence.

The OHCHR also urged the government to adopt all the necessary measures to guarantee the freedom of expression and information, and ensure that journalists and the media carry out their work in a safe environment, free from intimidation and reprisals, in accordance with international standards. UN Human Rights Office is a department of the secretariat of the UN that works to promote and protect the human rights that are guaranteed under international law and stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It was established by the UN general assembly on December 20, 1993.

In a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, ’Matšepo Ramakoae, on December 4, last year, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also urged Lesotho to “enact a general law to prevent, investigate and punish torture and other cruel treatment or degrading punishment”. Public Eye has seen a copy of Bachelet’s letter. Bachelet has been UN High Commissioner for Human rights since 2018.

She previously served as president of Chile from 2006 to 2010 and 2014 to 2018 for the Socialist Party of Chile and she is the first woman to hold the Chilean presidency. In her letter to Ramakoae, she said the government should conduct “independent and impartial investigations” into claims that police and security forces have committed human rights violations, including torture and unlawful killings, and initiate prosecutions.

She further said the government should undertake impartial investigations into allegations of police brutality, corruption, and human rights violations and abuses, including reported extrajudicial killings and torture by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), and to continue to operationalise the Police Complaints Authority (PCA).

In January last year, the United Kingdom (UK) spoke against allegations of police brutality and corruption in Lesotho which it said undermined the basic tenets of a just and democratic society. The UK expressed both outrage and condemnation, and highlighted the need for more to be done to strengthen good governance.

“We remain seriously concerned that torture and police brutality continue to be reported, yet perpetrators are rarely prosecuted,” UK mission to the UN in Geneva said in its 35th universal periodic review statement on Lesotho. The universal periodic review – a unique instrument which involves a review of the human rights records of all the UN member states – takes place at UN offices in Geneva every five years.

In October 2019, local rights group, Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), published a shadow report on human rights in Lesotho. The report documented latest incidents of use of excessive force by police on a significant number of people. It exposed brutality as commonplace in the police service and revealed gross lack of leadership and accountability that promote it. A pattern of tolerance for and tacit approval of unnecessary aggression was revealed. TRC said in the report that no investigations and criminal proceedings were taken against perpetrators.

In its shadow report on human rights in Lesotho, TRC also called on the government to enact laws that would allow legal marriages between same-sex couples and permit adoption and fostering of children by gay couples. Lesotho does not recognise same-sex marriages or civil unions, nor does it ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. “While the Constitution of Lesotho lists prohibited grounds for discrimination, the list does not include sexual orientation,” TRC said in its shadow report.

Marriage in Lesotho is governed by customary law and common law, both of which exclude same-sex marriages. In her letter to Ramakoae, Bachelet said Lesotho should take measures to adopt legislative norms that eliminate all forms of discrimination against LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities and persons with HIV/AIDS. She said government should strengthen efforts to “raise awareness on the prohibition of stereotypes and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”.

In January last year, the UN human rights council urged Lesotho to adopt norms that would guarantee to LGBTI persons, the full enjoyment of their rights and called for an end to discrimination against homosexuals. UN human rights council is an inter-governmental body within the UN system made up of 47 states responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.

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