INTERNATIONAL human rights body, Amnesty International has welcomed the trial of five Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members in connection with the near fatal shooting of Lesotho Times editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, as a “first step towards ensuring that justice is served”.
Mr Mutungamiri was attacked upon arrival to his home in Ha Thamae, Maseru, on 9 July 2016 and sustained severe gunshot wounds.
His shooting followed a rough week for the Lesotho Times during which its staff, including current editor Ngoni Muzofa and journalist Keiso Mohloboli were summoned for heavy-handed interrogation by police and military officials over reports the newspaper had published about the LDF.
They were summoned over a story about negotiations for an exit package for then army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli in line with a SADC recommendation for his removal from post.
Publisher and chief executive officer, Basildon Peta, was also charged with criminal defamation arising from a complaint laid against the newspaper by then Lt-Gen Kamoli over the satirical column, Scrutator.
Two days after Mr Peta had appeared in court, Mr Mutungamiri was shot. One bullet broke two of his right-hand fingers and another shattered his lower jaw, requiring him to undergo specialized dental surgery to manage the jaw and to remove a bullet that lodged behind his left ear. He also sustained eye injuries after broken window glasses entered and cut his eyes, among other facial injuries.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) said that its investigations had revealed that the attempted assassination of Mr Mutungamiri was an operation authorized by the army.
Amnesty International made the first statement on 16 July 2016 urging authorities to bring those responsible to justice and ensure that journalists in Lesotho can work freely and without threats to their safety.
On 29 November, Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Khutlang Mochesane (57) from Ha-Makhoathi, Mahanyane Phasumane (37) from Masowe, Nyatso Tšoeunyane (41) from Lesobeng, Ha-Khupiso in Thaba-Tseka and Maribe Nathane from Leribe appeared before the Magistrate’s Court charged with attempted murder. They appeared again yesterday, and the case was postponed to 27 December with the accused remanded in custody.
The latest statement by the international human rights body mentioned that the arrest of soldiers should send a message that journalists should be allowed to exercise freedom of speech.
“This trial needs to send a clear message that the targeting of journalists will no longer be tolerated in Lesotho. The press must be allowed to do their job without living in constant fear of reprisals,” said the Southern Africa Regional Director of Amnesty International, Deprose Muchena.
“Lloyd Mutungamiri’s world has been turned upside down since the shooting. He was forced to abandon his job and flee the country. Our hope is that, through a fair, independent and impartial trial, justice will be served so journalists can carry out their work in a free and safe environment,” Mr Muchena said.