Authorities in Lesotho attempt to block social media

Expression

In November 2016, information from Lesotho indicates that the authorities are attempting to shut down all social media platforms. According to local reports, the governing coalition intends to suspend social media to prevent the spread of lies regarding the government. In a course of action that has stunned freedom of expression groups, authorities in Lesotho have moved beyond simply threatening to ban social media and taken concrete steps towards attempting to implement a ban. 

Recently, a request was made by the telecommunications regulator, The Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) to two telecommunications companies in the country to give their views on the temporary closure of Facebook and Twitter and provide justification for the continued provision of services to citizens. Although the LCA refused to shed light on the issue, it confirmed communication with the telecommunications companies, saying this was a matter strictly between the regulator and the companies. On 10th November, a government official stated

"this is government's first step towards bringing a certain level of control on the usage of social media platforms as currently there is no control [and] anybody can say whatever they want without thinking about the consequences of their statements"

One of the telecommunications companies, Vodacom Lesotho acknowledged receiving the letter in which it was requested to state its position on a possible temporary ban on social media. It was also reported that the Communications Minister had summoned the telecommunications' companies' senior managers to his office and ordered them to shut down Facebook and Twitter. 

Local freedom of expression group, The Media Institute of Southern Africa, Lesotho chapter said the following: 

A move to close down Facebook, Twitter or any other social network – whether temporarily or permanently – is a regression in the development of our country, and it undermines democratic gains that Lesotho has attained to date. The closure will negatively affect freedom of expression, civic engagement and participation in the political and socio-economic advancement of Lesotho.

A ban of social media is a serious threat to citizens' right to freedom of expression and communication and presents a worrying development in the country.