Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about attempts to intimidate leading political journalist Thabo Thakalekoala, who was recently elected president of the regional press freedom organisation, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). Since he covered a split in the ruling party for several international media, he and his family have received daily death threats and he says he has been banned from speaking on the public broadcast media.
“It is cowardly and perverse to try to gag a recognised journalist like this, and intolerable in a country that claims to be a democracy,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A journalist cannot work freely in such a climate. We urge the authorities to take the threats seriously by publicly supporting Thakalekoala and condemning the hate campaign against him.”
Lesotho correspondent of the BBC and the South African public broadcaster SABC, as well as Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press and the South African Press Association (Sapa), Thakalekoala has been getting daily threatening calls from public telephones for more than two weeks. The calls refer to his family or his own safety, and tell him his “days are numbered” or that he had “better leave the country.”
After interviewing Thakalekoala, privately-owned radio Harvest FM presenter Adam Lekhoaba received a threatening SMS message on his mobile phone from a listener on 6 November. “Be careful not to be the next,” it said.
Thakalekoala provided the international news media with coverage of the split in the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), in which former communication minister Tom Thabane left the LCD on 9 October to create his own party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC), thereby changing the face of Lesotho’s politics just a few months before general elections.
Thakalekoala suspects that the threats against him have been coming from LCD supporters who accuse him of biased reporting because they think he is a friend of Thabane. Thakalekoala insists that his relationship with Thabane is “strictly professional.”
“The situation is not comfortable but I am a stubborn person and I will continue to do my work without letting it affect me,” Thakalekoala told Reporters Without Borders. He said he has reported the threats to the intelligence services.
He also said that after he spoke on state-owned Radio Lesotho, the minister of communication, science and technology issued verbal instructions that the public broadcast media should not interview him again. MISA-Lesotho director Tom Mapesela is also reportedly included in the ban. Both Thakalekoala and Mapesela have been campaigning for Lesotho’s public media to be free of the close government control to which they are subjected.