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Maseru - Lloyd Mutungamiri, the editor of the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express newspapers, has been shot and critically injured at his home in the capital, Maseru.

He was shot around midnight on Saturday as he parked his car after returning from work. His wife, Tsitsi Mutungamiri, said she heard several gunshots and then screamed for help before going out of the home after the shots had ended. She found her husband slumped in the car bleeding profusely after one bullet shattered his jaw.

The shooting is the culmination of what has been a few tough weeks for the company, which has faced serious hostility from the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who accuse its newspapers of being too critical of it.

Mutungamiri was initially picked up for interrogation by police detectives on June 23, 2016, after the Lesotho Times published two reports deemed to have defamed the powerful commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Tlali Kennedy Kamoli. One report suggested that the Lesotho government was discussing a proposal for a hefty R40-million pay-out for Kamoli to exit the LDF in line with a recommendation by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) inquiry into Lesotho’s instability that Kamoli be relieved from his post. Another story was a satirical column which argued that Lesotho was far better off without General Kamoli.

Publisher and CEO Basildon Peta was subsequently summoned to the police and charged with criminal defamation and crimen injuria over the contents of the satirical column that goes by the moniker Scrutator. He was released on R30 800 bail and surety on July 6, 2016. He is due back in court on July 19, 2016.

Africa Media Holdings (AMH), the publishers of the Lesotho Times, said it was clear the hit on Mutungamiri was a targeted assassination attempt. Nothing was stolen from the editor, so a robbery could not have been the main motive. A detailed statement would be issued on Monday after doctors have pronounced on Mutungamiri’s condition. But the company expressed serious concern at the Lesotho government’s open hostility against the Lesotho Times. A spokesman for one of the parties in the coalition government went on air recently and asked for Peta to be killed, accusing him of being a spy.

African Union (AU) chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma recently condemned the breakdown in the rule of law in Lesotho after an attack on the house of arch government critic and National University of Lesotho (NUL) pro-vice chancellor, Professor Mafa Sejanamane. The country has in recent times experienced a spate of killings. In one incident, four people were shot dead at Qeme near Maseru. The main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) said the four were its supporters who had attended its rally in the area. A daughter of an ABC MP was shot dead on June 22, 2016, as she arrived home driving the MP’s vehicle. The MP, Lehlohonolo Moramotse, claimed he was the main target of the attack and the assassins had thought he was the one driving the car.

Lesotho has been on a downward spiral since the assassination of former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao on June 25, 2015, and the reinstatement of Tlali Kamoli by Prime Minister Mosisili after the latter was returned to power in the February 28, 2015, snap elections. The snap elections were called after Kamoli launched a coup attempt on then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on August 30, 2014. Thabane, who had fired Kamoli and replaced him with Mahao, fled the country only to return under heavy South African police guard. He and all the other opposition leaders are now living in exile in South Africa after various attempts to kill them by suspected LDF members. They have vowed not to return as long as Kamoli remains as the head of the LDF. No arrests have been made in any of the shootings or attacks on suspected government opponents.

A SADC special summit on Lesotho on June 28, 2016, gave the country a month to outline timeframes for implementing the regional body’s commission of inquiry recommendations.

INDEPENDENT FOREIGN SERVICE