Mr Basildon Peta, the publisher of the Lesotho Times newspaper, is due to appear in the Maseru Magistrates Court on Tuesday, 19 July 2016. On 5 July 2016, Mr Peta was arrested and charged with criminal defamation and crimen injuria. The charges relate to a satirical article published in the Lesotho Times concerning the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. He was released on bail of about R40 000, and has expressed concern over his safety and security. Recently, there have been reports that a spokesperson for one of the parties in the coalition government spoke on public radio, calling Mr Peta a spy and calling for him to be killed.
This is not an empty threat, as the editor of the Lesotho Times, Mr Lloyd Mutumgamiri, is currently in a hospital in Bloemfontein, South Africa after being shot in the face on 9 July 2016 in an apparent assassination attempt. In May this year, the house of Prof Mafa Sejanamane, an academic at the National University of Lesotho, was attacked while the professor and his daughter were at home. Although bullets were fired, neither of them were hurt. At the time, Prof Sejanamane said that he believed the attack was in response to a number of articles he had written on Lesotho’s political crisis. The National University of Lesotho issued a statement which described the situation in Lesotho as one of “reigning lawlessness” which allowed those who “want to sow fear and silence the nation through intimidation and aggression.” In June, the daughter of an opposition Member of Parliament was shot dead in the driveway of her parents’ house. Her father said that as his daughter was driving his car he believed the attack was meant for him.
These killings all come in the midst of a political crisis that was precipitated by the murder of Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao in June last year. The chairperson of the African Union, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has expressed concern about the “deteriorating state of the rule of law, human rights and constitutionalism” in Lesotho. She said that this has had a negative effect on “democracy, peace and stability” in the kingdom.
Mr Peta’s security concerns are therefore well founded and it is imperative that his safety is not threatened during his criminal trial. SALC and other local, regional and international organisations will be following Mr Peta’s trial closely and will continue to monitor the general security situation in Lesotho.