THE Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho chapter has warned politicians against harassing media practitioners during and after the campaigns for the upcoming 2022 general elections.
MISA said Lesotho’s history was littered with gory episodes where journalists where harassed by politicians and their supporters during election time while they are doing their jobs.
Addressing the media on Tuesday in Maseru, MISA Lesotho chairperson Nkoale Tšoana said the institute was aware of threats, insults and arrests local media practitioners face during and after elections.
Lesotho is gearing for general elections which have tentatively been penned in for September 2022.
In the past, media practitioners have been harassed, intimidated and threatened for asking questions or writing stories that are deemed critical of different political parties. Mr Tšoana urged media practitioners to be wary during the election campaign period.
“We know that it is during this (election) time that media practitioners will be embarrassed, insulted, threatened, arrested and persecuted by those who believe they have more power than others,” Mr Tšoana said.
“In most cases, media practitioners will be harassed by politicians or supporters of different political parties. We know that it is during this time that media practitioners will not enjoy freedom to freely practice because of threats used by those in power as a trick to deter journalists from investigating and exposing government secrets.”
Some of the mechanisms used by those in power include shutting down social media platforms like Facebook as well as unlawfully arresting journalists without taking them to court, he said.
The main purpose of the unlawful arrests is to interrogate journalists, demanding that they reveal their sources.
He said some journalists were forced to flee the country to South Africa because of threats advanced by security agencies and supporters of different political parties during election periods.
“This was to ensure that they do not freely investigate and publish issues of national interests.”
Mr Tšoana said in the recent few weeks, MISA has written to all big political parties pleading with their party leaders to ensure that journalists are safe during the 2022 election campaigns.
“We made them aware that it was their responsibility to ensure that journalists are safe at all times. In particular, we made them aware of the dangers of turning press conferences into political rallies. We requested them to ensure that their party supporters don’t attend press conferences to avoid turning them into political rallies.
“We have in the past seen the manner in which party supporters harass journalists during press conferences. Their presence results in journalists being insulted and threatened afterwards.
“It is therefore important for all media practitioners to know that we must, at all times, make sure that we are safe while diligently discharging our duties. Now that MISA has officially warned political parties to stop turning press conferences into political rallies, it is now our responsibility to demonstrate unity and stand by this decision. We must not agree to attend press conferences-turned-political rallies, we must at all times stand together in ensuring that we only attend press conferences. We strongly believe that this will be the beginning of a firm deterrent to harassment of journalists in the country,” Mr Tšoana concluded.
The statement by MISA Lesotho came three days after the regional body wrote to Mozambique President and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) chairperson, Filipe Nyusi, regarding the safety and security of journalists and the implementation of contentious cybersecurity laws in the SADC region.
MISA regional governing council chairperson, Golden Maunganidze, said journalists in the region were grappling with issues to do with freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.
He said MISA was concerned about the disappearance of Azory Gwanda of Tanzania, and Ibraimo Mbaruco of Mozambique and the continued persecution of Hopewell Chin’ono in Zimbabwe. MISA is also concerned about the persecution of eSwatini journalists Eugene Dube and Zweli Dlamini and the general targeting of journalists in that country as well as the state of insecurity in northern Mozambique.
“Furthermore, Southern African countries are seemingly in a race to implement contentious cybersecurity laws following the SADC Heads of State and Government Summit in Maputo in 2020. MISA is concerned with the seeming regional consensus on the need to snoop on the Internet without much attention and due regard to the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, particularly the protection of citizens’ right to privacy,” Mr Maunganidze said.