THREE armed Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) members yesterday stormed Thahakhube FM studios to stop a current affairs show in which LCS Staff Association Secretary-General Lebonajoang Ramohalali was talking about the recently-enacted Lesotho Correctional Services Act (2016).
During the programme, titled Morning Parliament, Mr Ramohalali said the new law only focused on the offences and punishments for staff and not on their welfare.
However, according to the station’s news department Assistant Manager Moseketsi Nkuebe, they were rudely interrupted by “three men with big guns who demanded that we end the programme as they wanted to speak to me and Ramohalali”.
“The men who stormed our station were giants. Two of them were not in uniform while the third one was in full LCS uniform,” said a visibly shaken Ms Nkuebe.
“One of them called me to where he was by wagging his finger. At the time, we were still live since the microphones were still on. I was very scared and didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless.”
She said the three men asked why the station had afforded Mr Ramohalali an opportunity to talk about the new law without telling them they would discuss the issue on the programme.
“They also asked why I had allowed Ramohalali to talk about the new law when he had no right to do so since he was suspended. They also demanded, in an intimidating way, that I retract mentioning their presence on the radio,” Ms Nkuebe said.
“I tried to explain that I would give them an opportunity to set the record straight if they felt aggrieved. However, they shouted ‘we want to set the record straight now!’ and I gave one of them a seat and the microphone to state their point of view.”
Ms Nkuebe said she was still rattled hours after the incident.
“I am still shaken. I still don’t understand why they did that. They didn’t come in peace and enjoyed intimidating us as Ramohalali watched in silence and didn’t move,” she said.
“As a female journalist, I feel very insecure and afraid that anything can happen when executing my duties. I feel threatened and suppressed and this is also going to cause self-censorship not only as a journalist, but as a female journalist for that matter. I don’t feel like I know what democracy is anymore.”
She added: “They even mocked me about being single and gave me their contact details, saying one of them would be going to my family to pay lobola (bride price). I really felt insulted and humiliated, more so during African Women’s month. They made me feel like I was hunting for men.”
Mr Ramohalali, who is also the LCS Staff Association’s acting president, said he was still coming to terms with what happened at Thahakhube FM studios. Mr Ramohalali was suspended from the LCS in January for speaking to the media without authorisation.
“I fail to understand what kind of democratic dispensation we are living in. I personally don’t have a problem with them, but it is scary for someone who is not used to them. They overstepped their mark, and I think they owe the radio station an apology,” he said.
“In as much as I was suspended, I didn’t go to the radio station representing the LCS. I went there in my capacity as the Staff Association’s secretary-general and the acting president.”
Mr Ramohalali also said two of the men were LCS Commissioner ’Matefo Makhalemele’s body guards while the other one was the agency’s Public Relations Officer, Assistant Superintendent Neo Mopeli.
Contacted for comment, ASP Mopeli said they owed “no one an apology as we did not do anything wrong”.
“There is nothing to apologise for,” he said.
“Ramohalali had no right to talk about the Staff Association’s issues since he is on an interdiction and its staffers are members of the LCS. This is not just some association in the village he was talking about here.”
ASP Mopeli also said they did not intimidate anybody during their “visit”.
“It would be surprising if Nkuebe said she was intimidated during our visit because we even ironed out the issue,” he said.
Commenting on the incident, Media Institute of Southern Africa-Lesotho chapter Director Tsebo Matšasa condemned the LCS members’ “arrogant behaviour” saying it was a “threat to media freedom”.
Mr Matšasa said while he was yet to be fully appraised of the incident, “all the same, that arrogant behaviour is not warranted”.
“They erred and the radio station can sue them if it wants. People should not take out their frustration on the media. As MISA-Lesotho, we condemn such behaviour. It is tantamount to censorship and denies society its right to know and access information,” he said adding there were procedures that could be followed if they felt aggrieved by the programme.