AU seeks an­swers over rights abuses

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane

THE African Union (AU) re­quested the govern­ment of Le­sotho to ex­plain the steps it was tak­ing to pro­mote and pro­tect hu­man rights in the King­dom but the govern­ment did not re­spond de­spite an ex­plicit re­quest by the con­ti­nen­tal body’s hu­man rights or­gan for a “prompt re­sponse”.

The AU’S African Com­mis­sion on Hu­man and Peo­ple’s Rights (ACHPR) wrote a let­ter to Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili shortly af­ter the ar­rests, in­ter­ro­ga­tion and charg­ing of Le­sotho Times jour­nal­ists and the near fa­tal shoot­ing of ed­i­tor Lloyd Mu­tungamiri in July with a spe­cific re­quest for “favourable at­ten­tion (of the let­ter) and prompt re­sponse”.

How­ever, one of the authors of the let­ter, ACHPR Com­mis­sioner Pantsy Tlakula, said the govern­ment of Le­sotho had not yet re­sponded to the let­ter dated 15 July 2015.

Com­mis­sioner Tlakula said she had writ­ten to Le­sotho urg­ing the govern­ment to up­hold free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the me­dia but re­fused to dis­close the details of her let­ter.

How­ever, the Le­sotho Times was this week able to ob­tain a copy of the let­ter which asked the govern­ment to ex­plain the steps it “has taken or in­tends to take” to ful­fill its obli­ga­tions to pro­mote and pro­tect hu­man rights un­der Ar­ti­cle 1 of the African Char­ter.

The let­ter also asked the govern­ment to clar­ify its po­si­tion on the shoot­ing of Mr Mu­tungamiri, the ar­rest and in­ter­ro­ga­tion of reporter Keiso Mohloboli as well as the charg­ing of pub­lisher Basil­don Peta with crim­i­nal defama­tion, among other things.

The let­ter chron­i­cled events that had tran­spired since Ms Mohloboli and Mr Mu­tungamiri were ini­tially taken in by the po­lice for ques­tion­ing over a story about an exit pack­age for Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) com­man­der Lieu­tenant-gen­eral Tlali Kamoli, through the charg­ing of Mr Peta with crim­i­nal defama­tion over this news­pa­per’s satir­i­cal col­umn, Scru­ta­tor, as well as the sub­se­quent shoot­ing of Mr Mu­tungamiri.

The ACHPR cau­tioned that while it was not reach­ing any con­clu­sions on the in­for­ma­tion at its dis­posal, it was con­cerned that “if true, the govern­ment of Le­sotho would be in grave vi­o­la­tion of sev­eral rights en­shrined in the African Char­ter on Hu­man and Peo­ple’s Rights (the African Char­ter) as a state party, in­clud­ing Ar­ti­cle 1 on the obli­ga­tion to adopt leg­isla­tive or other mea­sures to give ef­fect to the pro­vi­sions of the African Char­ter; Ar­ti­cle 9 on the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion; and Ar­ti­cle 25 on the duty to pro­mote hu­man rights”.

The ACHPR is a quasi-ju­di­cial body tasked with pro­mot­ing and pro­tect­ing hu­man rights through­out Africa, in­ter­pret­ing the African Char­ter on Hu­man and Peo­ples’ Rights as well as con­sid­er­ing in­di­vid­ual com­plaints of vi­o­la­tions of the char­ter.

Apart from Ms Tlakula, who is also the for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of South Africa’s In­de­pen­dent Elec- toral Com­mis­sion, the 15 July 2016 let­ter to Dr Mo­sisili, was also signed by Reine Alap­ini Gan­sou of Benin, in her ca­pac­ity as Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on Hu­man Rights in Africa.

Mr Mu­tungamiri (50), was shot by two as­sailants at his home in Up­per Thamae on 10 July 2016 in an ob­vi­ous as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt. He has since un­der­gone spe­cial­ist surgery in South Africa to re­pair his shat­tered lower jaw and to re­move a bul­let that lodged in his left ear and other bul­let frag­ments from his face.

Fol­low­ing the shoot­ing, Ms Mohloboli (32) quit her job and fled the coun­try fear­ing for her life.

Mr Peta is now in court charged with defama­tion over his news­pa­per’s satir­i­cal com­ment.

In the let­ter, which was also copied to the For­eign Af­fairs and Jus­tice min­istries, the ACHPR asks the govern­ment to clar­ify its in­ves­ti­ga­tions on the shoot­ing of Mr Mu­tungamiri to bring the cul­prits to book.

The let­ter ex­plains in great de­tail the need to pro­tect free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the press and why it is wrong for au­thor­i­ties to ask jour­nal­ists to re­veal their sources as had been re­quested of the Le­sotho Times jour­nal­ists.

The let­ter also ap­pears to pour scorn on crim­i­nal­iz­ing the jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sion through the rais­ing of crim­i­nal defama­tion charges against jour­nal­ists, say­ing pub­lic fig­ures should tol­er­ate a greater de­gree of crit­i­cism.

The ACHPR com­mis­sion­ers said they had noted with con­cern re­ports in­di­cat­ing Ms Mohloboli and Mr Mu­tungamiri “were both in­ter­ro­gated by mil­i­tary and po­lice of­fi­cials” in or­der to get them to dis­close their sources for a story that ap­peared in the Le­sotho Times of 23 June 2016 ti­tled, “Exit strat­egy for Kamoli”.

In the story, the Le­sotho Times had reported about ne­go­ti­a­tions for an exit strat­egy for Lt-gen Tlali Kamoli in line with a rec­om­men­da­tion by a South­ern Africa De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity res­o­lu­tion that he be re­moved from the helm of the army.

Reads part of the let­ter: “Your Ex­cel­lency, ac­cord­ing to the in­for­ma­tion we re­ceived, on Thurs­day 23 June 2016, Ms Mohloboli was ar­rested around 17:00 hours and taken to Po­lice Head­quar­ters, where she was in­ter­ro­gated by a panel of six po­lice of­fi­cers, led by the As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice (name with­held),” the com­mis­sion­ers state.

“She was re­leased later that evening at around 22:00 hours, on con­di­tion she write an apol­ogy let­ter to Lieu­tenant-gen­eral Tlali Kamoli of the Le­sotho De­fence Force, copy­ing the Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice Mo­lahlehi Let­soepa, in ad­di­tion to run­ning an apol­ogy in the Le­sotho Times and Sun­day Ex­press news­pa­pers.

“On Fri­day 24 June 2016, while at the of­fice writ­ing the apol­ogy, three po­lice of­fi­cers ar­rived and took Ms Mohloboli and Mr Mu­tungamiri to Mabote Po­lice Sta­tion, where they were in­ter­ro­gated and asked to dis­close their sources for the ar­ti­cle. Dur­ing the pe­riod, they were not al­lowed to seek or en­gage the ser­vices of their lawyers, in spite of the fact they made this re­quest.”

The ACHPR com­mis­sion­ers say a po­lice of­fi­cer ( name with­held) head­ing the CID po­lice of­fice at the Mabote po­lice sta­tion, in­formed Ms Mohloboli and Mr Mu­tungamiri de­spite the agree­ment reached for Ms Mohloboli to apol­o­gise, “the po­lice were given a di­rec­tive from govern­ment of­fi­cials to en­sure the jour­nal­ists re­vealed their sources”.

“It is fur­ther al­leged the po­lice of­fi­cer (name with­held) in­di­cated dis­cus­sions would also be held about a satire col­umn in the pa­per, known as Scru­ta­tor, be­cause Mr Mu­tungamiri, the (al­leged) writer of the col­umn had over the years shown dis­re­spect to Lieu­tenant-gen­eral Kamoli, the com­man­der of the army.”

“On Tues­day 5 July 2016, Mr Basil­don Peta, the news­pa­per’s pub­lisher, and Mr Mu­tungamiri reported to the po­lice and later taken to mag­is­trate court where they were charged with defama­tion and crimen in­juria,” the com­mis­sion­ers note.

“With re­gards to the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion, we wish to draw Your Ex­cel­lency’s kind at­ten­tion to the Dec­la­ra­tion of Prin­ci­ples on Free­dom of Ex­pres­sion in Africa (the Dec­la­ra­tion), which in its pream­ble un­der­scores the vi­tal na­ture of free­dom of ex­pres­sion and reaf­firms ‘the fun­da­men­tal im­por­tance of free­dom of ex­pres­sion as an in­di­vid­ual hu­man right, as a corner­stone of democ­racy and as a means of en­sur­ing re­spect for all hu­man rights and free­doms’, and lastly in­di­cates that ‘laws and cus­toms that re­press free­dom of ex­pres­sion are a dis­ser­vice to so­ci­ety’.

“Prin­ci­ple 1(1) and II (2) of the Dec­la­ra­tion pro­vide that free­dom of ex­pres­sion and in­for­ma­tion is a fun­da­men­tal and in­alien­able hu­man right, whose re­stric­tion should be pro­vided by law and serve a le­git­i­mate in­ter­est in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety.”

The com­mis­sion­ers state Prin­ci­ple XII of the Dec­la­ra­tion pro­vides that “states should en­sure their laws re­lat­ing to defama­tion con­form to the fol­low­ing stan­dards: no one shall be found li­able for true state­ments, opin­ions or state­ments re­gard­ing pub­lic fig­ures which it was rea­son­able to make in the cir­cum­stances; pub­lic fig­ures shall be re­quired to tol­er­ate a greater de­gree of crit­i­cism”.

“Fur­ther­more, Prin­ci­ple XI(1) pro­vides that at­tacks such as the mur­der, kid­nap­ping, in­tim­i­da­tion of and threats to me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers and oth­ers ex­er­cis­ing their right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion un­der­mines in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism, free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the free flow of in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic, whereas Prin­ci­ple XI(II) stip­u­lates that state par­ties have the obli­ga­tion to take af­fec­tive mea­sures to pre­vent such at­tacks and, when they do oc­cur, to in­ves­ti­gate them, to pun­ish per­pe­tra­tors and to en­sure that vic­tims have ac­cess to ef­fec­tive reme­dies. “Lastly, Prin­ci­ple XV, on the pro­tec­tion of sources and other jour­nal­is­tic ma­te­rial, pro­vides that me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers shall not be re­quired to re­veal con­fi­den­tial sources to in­for­ma­tion or to dis­close other ma­te­rial held for jour­nal­is­tic pur­poses ex­cept in ac­cor­dance with the fol­low­ing: “The iden­tity of the source is nec­es­sary for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion or pros­e­cu­tion of a se­ri­ous crime, or the de­fence of a per­son ac­cused of a crim­i­nal of­fence; the in­for­ma­tion or sim­i­lar in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to the same re­sult can­not be ob­tained else­where; the pub­lic in­ter­est in dis­clo­sure out­weighs the harm to free­dom of ex­pres­sion; and dis­clo­sure has been or­dered by a court, af­ter a full hear­ing.”

The com­mis­sion­ers also re­fer to the United Na­tions Dec­la­ra­tion on the Right and Re­spon­si­bil­ity of In­di­vid­u­als, Groups and Or­gans of So­ci­ety to Pro­mote and Pro­tect Uni­ver­sally Recog­nised Hu­man Rights and Fun­da­men­tal Free­doms.

“. . . (it) stip­u­lates in its Ar­ti­cle 12(2) that the state shall take all nec­es­sary mea­sures to en­sure the pro­tec­tion of ev­ery­one, in­di­vid­u­ally or in as­so­ci­a­tion with other per­sons against any vi­o­lence, threats, re­tal­i­a­tion, ad­verse dis­crim­i­na­tion, pres­sure or any other ar­bi­trary ac­tion as a con­se­quence of his or her le­git­i­mate ex­er­cise of the rights re­ferred to in the Dec­la­ra­tion.”

The ACHPR in­quires on the steps taken to bring the per­pe­tra­tors of Mr Mu­tungamiri’s shoot­ing to book.

“In light of the above, Your Ex­cel­lency, we would be grate­ful if the govern­ment of the King­dom of Le­sotho would kindly pro­vide clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the above re­ports, in ad­di­tion to in­ves­ti­gat­ing the at­tack on Mr Mu­tungamiri, in or­der to bring those re­spon­si­ble to jus­tice.

“Fur­ther­more, we re­spect­fully urge the govern­ment of the King­dom of Le­sotho, to kindly in­form us of steps it has taken or in­tends to take in ful­fil­ment of its obli­ga­tions un­der Ar­ti­cle 1 of the African Char­ter to ‘ recog­nise the rights, du­ties and free­doms en­shrined in the Char­ter and adopt leg­isla­tive and other mea­sures to give ef­fect to them,’ as well as cul­ti­vat­ing a cul­ture of re­spect for these rights.”

While not­ing “and ap­pre­ci­at­ing” Le­sotho’s com­mit­ment in hav­ing rat­i­fied the African Char­ter and other rel­e­vant hu­man rights in­stru­ments, the agency states: “We sin­cerely hope that our ap­peal will re­ceive Your Ex­cel­lency’s favourable at­ten­tion and prompt re­sponse.”

Com­mis­sioner Tlakula said: “I am a mem­ber of the ACHPR and, in­ci­den­tally, Le­sotho is one of the coun­tries un­der my purview be­cause each com­mis­sioner is al­lo­cated a coun­try.

“I have in­ter­vened in Le­sotho in my ca­pac­ity as the coun­try rap­por­teur, but also as a spe­cial rap­por­teur on free­dom of ex­pres­sion and ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion.

“I in­ter­vened in the case re­gard­ing the ar­rest of some mil­i­tary peo­ple and re­cently also in­ter­vened in a case re­lat­ing to the shoot­ing and ar­rest of two jour­nal­ists in Le­sotho.”

Asked whether she was suc­cess­ful in her in­ter­ven­tions, she said: “I can only say the first in­ter­ven­tion on the ar­rest of the mil­i­tary per­son­nel I did re­ceive a re­sponse from the govern­ment of Le­sotho, clar­i­fy­ing from their point of view what the is­sues were. But re­lat­ing to the two jour­nal­ists, I haven’t re­ceived any re­sponse.”

The Le­sotho Times so­licited a com­ment from Dr Mo­sisili’s of­fice yes­ter­day and met the pre­mier’s Se­nior Pri­vate Sec­re­tary, Mamello Mor­ri­son, who re­quested a copy of the let­ter. Af­ter she re­ceived the copy from this reporter, Ms Mor­ri­son said she would con­duct “in­ter­nal con­sul­ta­tions” on the let­ter with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

This is the sec­ond time that the AU has writ­ten to Le­sotho over right abuses.

In May this year AU com­mis­sion chair­per­son Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is­sued an un­usu­ally strong state­ment ex­press­ing her con­cerns over the “de­te­ri­o­rat­ing rule of law and hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion” in Le­sotho. She specif­i­cally con­demned the at­tack on the house of Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho (NUL) Pro Vice Chan­cel­lor and arch govern­ment critic, Pro­fes­sor Mafa Se­jana­mane.

l Mean­while, Le­sotho Times Pub­lisher and CEO Basil­don Peta yes­ter­day said Mr Mu­tungamiri was now out of dan­ger af­ter un­der­go­ing suc­cess­ful re­con­struc­tive surgery and other pro­ce­dures.

“We are happy that he is on the mend and he is now in a much bet­ter po­si­tion than be­fore. The doc­tors have given him sub­stan­tial time to re­cu­per­ate to en­able him to get to proper fit­ness.

“We thank the heav­ens for what is clearly a mir­a­cle. Our spe­cial thanks to all the hard­work­ing med­i­cal staff in Maseru who at­tended to him soon af­ter the in­ci­dent and pre­pared for his trans­fer. We also wish to thank ev­ery­one who con­veyed their words of sup­port dur­ing this or­deal.”

ACHPR Com­mis­sioner Faith Pansy Tlakula

PRIME Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili.

ACHPR Com­mis­sioner Pantsy Tlakula.

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