The authorities intermittently try to put pressure on the - economically very fragile - independent press. As the international community takes little interest in Lesotho, the press is only able to resist thanks to local demonstrations of support.
This tiny monarchy in southern Africa is not a haven of peace for the press. The government, which holds the real power, often targets the few independent news media. Because of concern about its image abroad, the government is more likely to resort to harassment and threats when events with an international impact take place in Lesotho. Censorship was imposed, for example, during a visit by a member of the British royal family in 2003, reminding local journalists that they do not enjoy full freedom in their work.
The MoAfrika press group, the chief opposition voice in the local news media, is the government’s favourite target. The group’s director was in 2003 again obliged to spend a considerable amount of effort to avoid a fine that would have left the group’s financial survival in doubt. There were energetic public displays of support for MoAfrika’s newspaper and radio station.
Two journalists physically attacked
Two journalists were attacked in Maseru on 2 July 2003 during a demonstration by street vendors protesting against their eviction from the city centre a few days before the start of an international conference and a visit by a member of the British royal family. Street vendors hit Tsepiso Mncina and Thabo Thakalekoala of the weekly Mopheme, mistaking them for members of the police. Mncina was taken to hospital for treatment.
Harassment and obstruction
The MoAfrika press group (consisting of a newspaper and radio station) was threatened with closure in June 2003 because of its inability to pay a fine of 170.000 maloti (20,000 euros) immediately and in full. The fine was imposed in 2002 for defamation, and the group had begun to pay in installments. However, three Lesotho high court bailiffs went to the premises of MoAfrika on 16 June with an order authorising them to seize the radio station’s equipment as well as the personal belongings of its director Candi Ratabane Ramainoane.
The bailiffs returned on 26 June and put the station’s computers and other equipment under seal. Dozens of listeners came out in support for the station the next day and began raising donations to rescue MoAfrika, eventually collecting 10,000 euros. Ramainoane was summoned to the office of the Maseru police chief on 30 June. The outstanding amount demanded by the court was finally paid in full in mid-July and MoAfrika was able to resume operating freely.
Unlike the South African news media, Lesotho’s independent press was not allowed to cover the 15-16 July visit by Princess Anne of the United Kingdom. Journalists with the local independent news media were denied all access to the event by security officials.