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A freelance journalist and the chair of IFEX member organisation Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Lesotho could face at least five years in jail after reading a letter on air accusing the Prime Minister of corruption, report MISA, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Thabo Thakalekoala was arrested by police on 22 June after he read out an open letter on his morning talk show, "Rise and Shine", on private radio station Harvest FM. According to RSF, the letter, given to him from members of the Lesotho Defence Force, called the Prime Minister an "unwanted ruler" and urged the Police Commissioner to arrest him because, as a person from South Africa, he had broken the law by running for office.

MISA reports that while in custody, Thakalekoala refused to reveal the names of the individuals who gave him the letter, and went on hunger strike to persuade the Lesotho government to release him or at least speed up his trial. Initially accused with high treason, he was charged with "failure to report subversive activity" and released on bail on 25 June, says RSF.

More than 700 people crowded outside police lockup in protest over the weekend, and more than 1,000 people gathered in protest outside court on the day of his hearing, CPJ says.

Thabo Motlamelle, deputy chair of MISA Lesotho, says the government has charged Thakalekoala so that they can keep him "out of circulation for some time and at a later stage, when they realise they cannot prosecute him successfully, they will withdraw the charge and release him."

All last week, a curfew was imposed in Lesotho's capital Maseru following a series of attacks on the homes of prominent politicians. According to MISA, government ministers have in the past made headlines for selling themselves luxury vehicles for a few hundred dollars and giving themselves interest-free loans. Opposition parties are also up in arms over the allocation of parliamentary seats in February under a new voting system that allegedly favours the ruling party.

Visit these links:
- RSF:
- CPJ:
- "Independent Online" (South Africa), "Curfew lifted in Lesotho":
(26 June 2007)

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