Reporters Without Borders today called on the Lesothan authorities to drop all charges against radio host Thabo Thakalekoala of privately-owned Harvest FM, who was released on bail yesterday after being held for three days for reading a letter on the air demanding the prime minister’s resignation. It was reportedly given to him by members of the armed forces.
Initially accused of “high treason,” Thakalekoala is now charged with failing to report subversive activity.
“The government of Lesotho has never been happy with the idea of privately-owned media that are not under its control,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This case shows that it has not understood that it is absurd to arrest a journalist on such extravagant charges and just leads to polarisation. Its battle against Harvest FM is unfair and sterile. Dropping all charges is an obvious precondition for defusing tension.”
The presenter of Harvest FM’s “Rise and Shine” morning programme and Lesotho correspondent of many international news media, Thakalekoala is one of the country’s best known journalists. The letter he read out on the air on 22 June described Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili as the “unwanted ruler of Lesotho” and said he deserved to be arrested because, as a person of South African origin, he had broken the law by running for office and holding the position of head of government.
He was arrested him as the programme finished and was held for three days at police headquarters in the capital, Maseru, where he went on hunger strike in protest against his detention.
Outraged reactions by listeners and the Lesothan branch of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (which Thakalekoala heads) seem to have played a role in his release. He is now charged under article 9 of the 1984 internal security law, and his trial is scheduled to start on 25 July.
Harvest FM has often been accused by the government of being the headquarters of the All Basotho Convention, the main opposition party. The station’s editor and star presenter, Reverend Adam Lekhoaba, was deported to South Africa after February’s general elections on the grounds that he had no work permit and had tried to “incite revolt” and “disturb the peace.”
During the elections, the station broadcast results as they came in, and interviewed many opposition supporters who criticised the way the elections were held.