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Radio broadcaster facing charges read offending letter under threat of imminent death

(WPFC/IFEX) - The following is a 6 February 2008 WPFC press release:

Upon the Recommendation of IPI, WPFC Makes Fund Against Censorship Grant to a Lesotho Journalist Facing the Death Penalty

Reston, USA, February 6, 2008 - Upon the recommendation of the International Press Institute (IPI), the World Press Freedom Committee ( http://www.wpfc.org ) - an organization representing 45 press freedom groups from throughout the world - made a Fund Against Censorship grant to fund the legal defense of Thabo Thakalekoala, a Lesotho journalist who is unjustly in prison facing the death penalty.

Thakalekoala, a 45-year-old freelance print and radio journalist who has investigated several cases of corruption within the Lesotho government, was arrested on June 17, 2007 following a live broadcast of his morning radio show on Harvest FM Radio. The arrest was based on a letter he was forced to read out live on air, and he has since been charged with multiple criminal offences relating to the content of the letter, of which one of them, high treason, carries the death penalty.

While Thakalekoala was broadcasting his "Rise and Shine" morning show, a letter was pushed under his office door. Via a telephone call to the studio, Thakalekoala was told to read the contents of the letter live on air, or risk being immediately killed. Despite Thakalekoala's requests to speak with the author of the letter, all that the caller would disclose was that he represented members of the Army and Air Force of Lesotho who were disgruntled with corruption within the government, demanding the resignation of the country's prime minister and several members of his cabinet.

Under these circumstances, and after letting his audience know what was taking place, Thakalekoala read the letter to his listeners only to find himself under arrest shortly after his show was over. He was taken into custody, harshly interrogated for more than eight hours, charged with subversion and finally released on bail. But months later, he learned he had been charged with several other crimes, including high treason, sedition and criminal defamation.

"Obviously, when threatened with imminent death, this Lesotho radio broadcaster had no choice but to comply with the demand that he read the letter on the air," said Mark Bench, Executive Director of World Press Freedom Committee. "It seems incredible to us that the security forces of the government would even arrest or jail the threatened broadcaster, but that they would sanction his being sentenced to death is intolerable. We call upon the officials of the Kingdom of Lesotho to immediately rescind the sentence and dismiss all charges."

His case will be heard by the country's High Court on April 8, but Thakalekoala has already depleted his saving and cannot continue paying his legal fees. Therefore, this Fund Against Censorship grant 11690-C Sunrise Valley Dr., Reston, Virginia 20191, USA, 703.715.9811, 703.620.6790 (fax), www.wpfc.org will allow him to continue fighting these unjust charges and a clear attempt by government officials to silence his critical voice.

The Fund Against Censorship provides financial assistance for legal costs to journalists who are the target of judicial harassment and other forms of intimidation. The grant is made by WPFC on behalf of the global Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations, which includes, in addition to WPFC, International Press Institute (Vienna, Austria); Inter American Press Association (Miami, USA); International Association of Broadcasting (Montevideo, Uruguay); World Association of Newspapers (Paris, France); Commonwealth Press Union (London, England); North American Broadcasters Association (Los Angeles, USA); International Federation of the Periodical Press (London, England); and the Committee to Protect Journalists (New York, USA).

Since 1977 the World Press Freedom Committee, an international coalition representing 45 press freedom groups throughout the world, has made numerous grants in its cooperative program to help news media and journalists of the developing world and more recently, Asia and Central and Eastern Europe. Each request is well screened, and the success of the program depends upon generous donations from foundations, businesses and individuals.

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