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Lesotho

Live rating: Obstructed

Last updated on 25.05.2018 at 07:23

Lesotho - Overview

Civil society in Lesotho works in a climate of considerable political instability. Recent years saw an attempted coup in 2014, the killing of a prominent military leader by other military personnel in 2015, and the fleeing of leading opposition figures to neighbouring South Africa and opposition boycotts of parliament in 2015.

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 Lesotho High Court ruling: criminal defamation is unconstitutional

Lesotho High Court ruling: criminal defamation is unconstitutional

On 21st May 2018, the High Court of Lesotho declared the offense of criminal defamation unconstitutional.

Expression

On 21st May 2018, the High Court of Lesotho declared the offense of criminal defamation as unconstitutional. The case was brought before the High Court by Basildon Peta, journalist for the newspaper Lesotho Times, who was charged with criminal defamation and crimen injuria for a satirical column he wrote in June 2016. The High Court, who sits as the Constitutional Court, ruled that the offence of criminal defamation leads to self-censorship, and is an obstacle to an informed public.  Anneke Meerkotter, Litigation Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Center said in a press statement

"We commend the Lesotho Constitutional Court bench for its brave decision, which makes a significant contribution to freedom of expression jurisprudence in the region. We are concerned by the ongoing use of criminal defamation laws against journalists and human rights defenders and hope that this decision will also send a message to other governments to reform their laws.”

Association

The Constitution, in Article 16, protects the freedom of association, with reservations on the grounds of defence, public safety, public order, public morality and public health.

The Constitution, in Article 16, protects the freedom of association, with reservations on the grounds of defence, public safety, public order, public morality and public health. Both domestic and international CSOs are generally able to operate without restriction, and many CSOs speak out on key social issues and on matters of corruption. In a landmark moment, after considerable delays, an LGBTI CSO was registered for the first time in 2010. However, trade union organising can be more difficult: public sector workers, who make up a large proportion of the workforce, are not allowed to form unions, and workers in the textile business, the country’s largest formal private sector employer, also experience difficulties in joining unions.

Peaceful Assembly

Article 15 of the Constitution upholds the right of peaceful assembly, subject to limitations on the grounds of defence, public safety, public order, public morality and public health.

Article 15 of the Constitution upholds the right of peaceful assembly, subject to limitations on the grounds of defence, public safety, public order, public morality and public health. However, in practice, protests have sometimes been violently dispersed, with reports of police brutality against assemblies in election periods. The police used live ammunition to disperse a strike by nurses in 2014, injuring some of those involved. In some parts of the economy, such as mining, union meetings are banned, while spontaneous workforce protests may be chilled by fear of punishments, including sackings.

Expression

Article 14 of the Constitution recognises the freedom of expression, except on the grounds of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health and protecting the rights and reputations of others.

Article 14 of the Constitution recognises the freedom of expression, except on the grounds of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health and protecting the rights and reputations of others. There is no government restriction of internet access, although poor infrastructure and high cost present barriers. There is a lack of clear and rights-based legislation on the freedom of expression. While the practice of independent media making criticisms of the government is well established, the government is sometimes intolerant of criticism and antagonistic towards private media, and the state broadcaster takes a generally pro-government line. The fear of losing government advertising, an important revenue source given the state’s central role in the economy, may also cause private media to self-censor. There have been several reports of government and military interference in the media, and police and judicial harassment and intimidation of journalists. Broadcast media were jammed during the 2014 coup attempt, and in 2015, two journalists fled Lesotho. The editor of the Lesotho Times newspaper survived a shooting in 2016, prior to which he and colleagues were subject to a long campaign of judicial harassment. Defamation and insult remain a criminal offence, and other laws, such as the Sedition Proclamation and Internal Security (General Act) may encourage self-censorship. The Sedition Proclamation in particular bans some forms of criticism of the government, and can lead to charges of seditious libel. The government rejected a 2015 recommendation from the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations to repeal criminal defamation laws. There is no access to information law.