- The Sesotho newspaper 'Mololi' is being sued for defamation by a Member of Parliament (MP) of Lesotho's ruling party. 'Mololi', which is published by the party itself, had published details of the alleged misbehaviour of the MP, which had led to his dismissal from the party.
'Mololi', a weekly Sesotho tabloid and a publication of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) political party, has been served with a court summons by Mr Lehlohonolo T'sehlana, an LDC Member of Parliament (MP) for Mokhotlong constituency, demanding maloti 350,000 (approximately US$ 54,000), for defamation.
The civil litigation is in relation to an article that appeared in the 'Mololi' edition of 19 February, under the heading: "Tlhase e nyenyane e chesa hlaha", which roughly translates to: "a small spark causes fire-outbreak", according to reports from the Windhoek-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
The 'Mololi' article alleged that the MP had, on two occasions, showed disrespect to the Speaker of Parliament, disregarded and acted against the constitution of the LCD and that he had no respect whatsoever for the elderly and other members of the ruling party.
In his legal submissions to party newspaper, the MP has categorically denied all the allegations featured in the publication, which he deems "defamatory". As a result he is suing the publication and its editor and author of the article in question. According to Mr T'sehlana, he has resorted to civil litigation following the refusal of 'Mololi' to publish a retraction of its statements in the edition in question.
Mr T'sehlana is currently involved in squabbles with the ruling party, of which he was a member until his dismissal from the party ranks in mid-February 2004 following appearance before the party's disciplinary committee, on charges of defaming the party leadership and non-adherence to the party constitution.
Zoé Titus, researcher at MISA, today issued an international "alert" due to what it sees as a "threat" to a Basotho newspaper. MISA in general holds that the possibility of pursuing such defamation cases constitutes a threat to press freedom. In this particular case, the compensation sought also may pose a financial threat to the survival of 'Mololi'.
Press freedom in Lesotho generally reaches a high level, although several libel and defamation cases during the last year have threatened the financial fundament of the country's pluralistic media.
While Lesotho has a relative high density of independent and other media, most of these media are of very small size and thus financially vulnerable. A successful court case against a newspaper thus easily could mean the bankruptcy of the media outlet.
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