Lekhetho Ntsukunyane and Rethabile Pitso
THE Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR) have condemned the shooting of Lesotho Times and Sunday Express Editor Lloyd Mutungamiri, saying it was the work of “merchants of death who operate under the cover of darkness as Satan does”.
Mr Mutungamiri (50) is currently undergoing treatment in South Africa after being shot four times at his Upper Thamae home in the wee hours of 10 July 2016 in what appeared to be a coordinated assassination attempt.
In statement issued yesterday and signed by LLHR president, Advocate Zwelakhe Mda King’s Counsel (KC), the lawyers condemned “in the most emphatic terms, the cowardly attack on the editor.”
“What is more disturbing is to learn that the attempted murder occurs hot on the heels of certain utterances allegedly made in a radio station by a political fanatic calling upon the publisher and CEO of Lesotho Times (Basidon Peta) to be killed,” read the statement.
Such conduct, the lawyers say, constitutes criminal acts under sections 23(1) and 34(1) of the Penal Code.
“These crimes are incitement to murder or attempted murder or causing physical harm. This incitement and the resultant crimes violate the right to life and security protected by the Constitution. Proprietors of radio stations should not ever forget the shameful part radio played in orchestrating genocide in Rwanda in 1994.”
LLHR also notes journalism was not just a profession: “It is the exercise in occupation of the freedom of expression which is guaranteed to every person by the Constitution. This freedom cannot be withdrawn or undermined by faceless assassins and political zealots.
“Violation of those constitutional rights and freedoms, taken in conjunction with incitement to murder, attempted or threats to physical harm under the Penal Code, impose on the Crown positive obligations to conduct effective police investigations into the attacks on journalists in particular and citizens in general.”
A free press, the LLHR further notes, is a purveyor of good news and bad news.
“It is also a mirror for democratic society to see itself. Necessarily therefore a free press shocks, offends, satirises, and taunts the arrogance of power and privilege,” the lawyers state.
“Hence the misfit of a democratic society – those who tire under the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broad mindedness – react through violence, threats, assault, murder or arrest journalists when the mirror of the free press exposes societal ills, fault-lines and other ugly features of society.”
The statement was copied to the Office of the Prime Minister, Minister of Law, Minister of Communications, Minister of Police, Judiciary, Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions, Commissioner of Police, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Media Institute of Southern Africa – Lesotho Chapter, World Association of Newspapers, Amnesty International and Law Society of Lesotho.
Meanwhile, the United States government has also expressed concern over the “increasing pressure on the media in Lesotho”.
In a statement issued last Friday, the Americans condemned Mr Mutungamiri’s shooting and encouraged the government to investigate it fully and hold those responsible to account.
“Freedom of expression is a constitutional right in Lesotho and journalists must be able to do their critically important jobs without fear of intimidation, harassment, and violence,” read part of the statement.