RSF deplores radio journalist’s murder in Lesotho

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the cold-blooded murder of a journalist in Lesotho who covered corruption and who was shot multiple times as he left his radio station, and calls on the authorities to identify and prosecute those responsible.

Ralikonelo Joki, the host of a show called “Hlokoana-La-Tsela” (Heard it on the Grapevine) on Ts'enolo FM, a privately-owned radio station in the capital, Maseru, was exiting the radio station in his car at around 10 p.m. on 14 May when a volley of shots rang out. The 44-year old journalist was found dead seconds later with at least six bullet wounds in his body and another in his head.

RSF has been told that the shots were fired from both sides of the car (driver's and passenger’s) and that their precision suggests that the killing was carefully planned.

Ralikonelo Joki’s murder is a chilling and alarming development for press freedom in Lesotho. We strongly condemn this cold-blooded killing of a journalist who was reporting in independent manner in a highly polarised media landscape. The investigation into his death must be impartial and must result in those responsible being identified and brought to justice.

Sadibou Marong
Head of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa desk

In his show on Ts'enolo FM, for which he had worked since March 2020, Joki often denounced corruption under the previous government, which was brought down by general election last October. In the past two months, he had been investigating an alleged case of real estate corruption involving private sector companies. He was often the target of threats from anonymous Facebook accounts and rumours of his death had circulated in recent months.

He was also sometimes the target of open threats, such as those made at the start of the year by the head of the Basotho National Party (BNP), a member of the ruling coalition that was ousted last October. The BNP leader said he should be “dealt with” in a Facebook post that was reposted by many BNP supporters.

Teboho Khatebe Molefi, the head of the Editors’ Forum of Lesotho, said Joki had been worried by these threats but had continued working “with bravado.” Ts'enolo FM manager Mshengu Tshabalala described him as a “rigorous” journalist who was “highly respected and popular with the public.” He is to be buried on 3 June.

The police say they are investigating Joki’s murder but have yet to make any arrests. Two days after the murder, the authorities imposed an indefinite night curfew with the aim of curbing gun violence.

Joki’s murder is unprecedented in Lesotho, but journalists are often subjected to intimidation and frequently censor themselves. Harassment of media personnel has increased in recent years. In November 2021, a journalist who had covered a theft of weapons was tortured by means of a plastic bag placed over his head. During a protest in 2020, a woman journalist was shot at by police and several of her colleagues were arbitrarily arrested.

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