- It has almost become tradition in Lesotho; times of elections are times of trouble. Otherwise a country that respects press freedom, Lesotho's main independent journalists has received death threats and legal challenges for digging into the ruling party's internal affairs.
Several journalists in Lesotho are currently being inundated with anonymous threatening calls, and accusations that they are at the forefront of a campaign to cause confusion in the country and within the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). This comes at a time when the LCD has called for anticipated elections to answer a serious split in the party.
The targeted journalists - Thabo Thakalekoala and Adam Lekhoada of 'Harvest FM' radio station, Molika of 'People's Choice' (PC) FM radio station, and Malehloka Lalitapole of 'PC FM' radio station - are also accused of promoting negative perceptions about some members of the government of Lesotho.
Especially targeted is Thabo Thakalekoala, who previously worked as a star reporter with afrol News' Basotho partner media 'Mopheme', and currently is regional chairperson of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a regional media watchdog. Mr Thakalekoala is also the 'South African Broadcasting Corporation' (SABC) and 'British Broadcasting Corporation' (BBC) correspondent in Lesotho.
According to MISA, government harassment of Mr Thakalekoala started already late last year. MISA reported in November 2006 that the journalist had been inundated with anonymous threatening calls that complained about his reporting since the former Minister of Communications, Tom Thabane, defected from the LCD to form the All Basotho Convention (ABC) on 9 October 2006.
Yesterday, Mr Thakalekoala described an incident that took place in the early hours of 10 February, and that prompted him to fear for his life and the safety of his family. According to Mr Thakalekoala, he awoke to loud banging on his front door at approximately 1:00 AM. His harassers called to him to open the door to receive a gift: a tombstone intended to "minimise the cost of his funeral" as he would die before the scheduled elections on 17 February, they told him.
When he refused to venture outside, his harassers responded by warning him that his "days were numbered" and that his wife and children would soon be mourning his passing. "I fear for my life. I don't know what is going to happen if the LCD is voted back into power", he confessed to MISA.
Mr Thakalekoala has since registered an official statement with the police. Members of the Lesotho Police have questioned eyewitnesses. MISA said in a statement it was "currently arranging for armed security personnel" to guard the home of the journalist.
In a related incident, journalist Adam Lekhoada was summoned by local police to produce certified travelling documents. According to them, his citizenship was in question and therefore his right to freely practice journalism in Lesotho. Mr Lekhoada complied with the request yesterday.
Lesotho's first post-independence election in 1970 was annulled by Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan, which ushered in 16 years of a state of emergency, only to end in a military coup. Following elections, in 1998 and 2002, were marred by political violence. A prayer initiative by local churches is meant to ensure peace and stability during the upcoming elections.
Also this year's elections seem poised to lead to political violence. Thousands of people attended the launch of a new political party - the All Basotho Convention (ABC) - in the kingdom of Lesotho on 9 October last year, at which occasion its leader, ex-Minister Thabane, pledged to spearhead a war on poverty.
Mr Thabane has already managed to persuade 17 former lawmakers from the ruling LCD to join him, making his new faction the third largest party in Parliament. More defections are expected and the ruling party sees its continuous hold on the Maseru government threatened.
Concerns over political violence in Lesotho are widespread, both in the Southern Africa region and beyond. According to a pre-election report by the US-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, after parliament was dissolved and a 90-day election timetable put in place, there was "intense pressure on electoral officials to update and correct the voter registration list" to hold the country's first-ever snap elections.
"In short, this 'extraordinary election' calls for extraordinary efforts on behalf of the electoral authorities, government, political parties, media and civil society to ensure that laws and the rules of the electoral framework are followed in a spirit of maximum flexibility, and with enhanced efforts to ensure equity and fairness in the process. For some, doubts remain as to whether this has taken place," the report noted.
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