The International Press Institute (IPI) today strongly condemned the apparent attempted assassination of a newspaper editor in Lesotho on July 9 that left the victim critically injured.
According to reports, Zimbabwean national Lloyd Mutungamiri, editor of the Lesotho Times, was driving close to his home late at night when he was shot by at least one unknown assailant. Mutungamiri was found with a bullet in his jaw by his wife, Tsitsi Matope, and rushed to a local hospital where he remains in intensive care.
Matope told the media that she believed the shooting was connected to the Lesotho Times’s recent coverage of government negotiations seeking the removal of the country’s controversial army chief, Tlali Kamoli. In its June 23, 2016 edition, the paper wrote that Kamoli was demanding more than R40 million (approx. €2.5 million) in exchange for stepping down from his post, an allegation later denied by the government.
Mutungamiri and a reporter, Keiso Mohloboli, were briefly detained on June 23 over the story and apparently forced to disclose their sources.
IPI Director of Press Freedom Programmes Scott Griffen said IPI’s global network stood behind Mutungamiri and his family.
“We are shocked by this brutal attempt on Mr. Mutungamiri’s life, which, insofar as it may be linked to the Lesotho Times’s news coverage, is an egregious attack on media freedom in Lesotho,” he said.
“The Lesotho authorities must immediately open a full investigation into this crime and follow that investigation wherever the evidence leads. The country must send a strong signal that violence against journalists will not be tolerated and that all persons responsible for such violence will face justice.”
Mutungamiri’s wife has said that the family will leave for South Africa once Mutungamiri is stable enough to be transported, as it no longer feels safe in Lesotho.
The attempted killing of Mutungamiri comes shortly after the Lesotho Times’s publisher, Basildon Peta, was charged with criminal defamation over the paper’s coverage of Kamoli.
In the same June 23 edition, the Lesotho Times satirised Kamoli’s interaction with political leaders in a regular column called “The Scrutator”. According to Matope, Mutungamiri was forced by police to surrender his Zimbabwean passport over the incident in order to compel Peta to turn himself in to authorities. Peta was subsequently charged under Sec. 104 of the Lesotho Criminal Code, the Times said.
Recent years have seen Lesotho beset by military and political unrest in which Kamoli has played a central role. Kamoli was accused of leading a failed coup attempt against then-Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in August 2014. Earlier this year, a Southern African Development Community (SADC) commission investigating the June 2015 murder of former Lesotho army commander Maaparankoe Mahao recommended that Kamoli be dismissed from his position.