CJFE aids Lesotho newspapers in aftermath of crisis

Friday, January 15, 1999
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (formerly the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists) has donated US$500 to two newspapers in Lesotho from its Journalists in Distress Fund. The newspapers, "Public Eye" and "The Sun", are among the independent newspapers that were devastated during civil unrest in September and October 1998. The violence reached a peak on 22 September when the South African-led Southern African Development Community (SADC) forces moved in to "avert a possible coup" and put down a mutiny by the army in the tiny southern African kingdom. The ensuing conflict between the SADC forces and the Lesotho defence forces led to rioting and looting in Maseru, where the independent newspapers are located. "The Sun" is a small English and local-language newspaper and "Public Eye" is a medium-sized English-language weekly newspaper owned by a group of journalists who must remain anonymous for their protection. Along with Lesotho's three other independent papers, they were robbed and had their offices looted and damaged. Other papers were the victims of arson. CJFE was able to respond to an urgent appeal by its partner, the Media Institute of Lesotho (MILES) thanks to the support of donors and members. In a letter to CJFE, Bethuel Thai, Director of MILES, writes, "I am taking this opportunity to thank you for your organisation's prompt response to the plight of Lesotho's independent media. I have no doubt that, no matter how small the contribution might be, it will really see the press back to normalcy and serve the people of Lesotho in their fragile democracy." According to MILES, the damages sustained by these independent papers during the violence was a serious blow to freedom of expression in Lesotho, as they represent the only independent voice in the country. Both radio and television, along with the news agency, are state-controlled Lesotho is stru ggling to achieve true democracy and the voice of the independent media is integral to promoting that freedom. Without international assistance, these papers would be shut down "for good," says MILES. CJFE, formerly known as the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, is an independent non-governmental organisation with 350 members which lobbies for media freedom worldwide and in Canada. CJFE manages the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) Clearing House, which circulates daily action alerts and a weekly "Communique" of freedom of expression news and events, as well as operating an outreach programme to groups in the developing world and the Newly Independent States (NIS) of the former Soviet Union. In addition to the Journalists in Distress Fund, CJFE also provides training for journalists worldwide and offers annual CJFE Press Freedom Awards to international and Canadian journalists. For more information, contact CJFE at 489 College St. #403, Toronto, Ontario M6G 1A5, tel: +1 416 515 9622, fax: +1 416 515 7879, e-mail: cjfe@cjfe.org, Web site: www.cjfe.org.

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