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Lesotho 2023

Security forces suppressed peaceful demonstrations at the Polihali Dam and surrounding areas. The government proposed a motion in the national assembly to reintroduce cybercrime legislation, which threatens to undermine the right to freedom of expression, and to expand enforcement powers. The right to privacy was violated. There were suspicious deaths in custody. Women continued to face discrimination. An overnight curfew imposed during May threatened livelihoods.


In July, the 138th session of the UN Human Rights Committee raised concerns regarding the establishment of the Human Rights Commission, the arbitrary use of states of emergency, and past human rights violations and impunity.

Freedom of expression and assembly

On 23 May, Lesotho Defence Force officers suppressed peaceful protests by communities affected by the construction of the Polihali Dam in the district of Mokhotlong. The protests, which took place during the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase II launch, were against inadequate and delayed compensation, lack of consultation regarding the construction and other related issues.

Also in May, the government tabled a motion in the national assembly to reinstate the Computer Crime and Cybersecurity Bill 2022. Civil society organizations and some media houses sought the bill’s withdrawal pending further consultations. Civil society members argued that, if enacted in its current form, the bill could shrink civic and political spaces and media freedom; and that some of its provisions could expand enforcement powers and stifle the right to freedom of expression and access to information.

Right to privacy

In May, while the prime minister was overseas, a minister in his office signed warrants authorizing National Security Service (NSS) officers to seize and retain mobile phones and other sources of information belonging to opposition politicians Machesetsa Mofomobe and Moeketsi Shale. The NSS accused them of involvement in the killing of radio personality Ralikonelo Joki. Following this, the high court declared Section 26 of the National Security Act, which allows for such executive warrants, unconstitutional.

Detainees’ rights

On 20 May, Ntabejane Kanono, a former soldier, was reported dead at Maseru Maximum Security Prison. The preliminary autopsy reports suggested that he may have died of poisoning. Ntabejane Kanono had been convicted of fraud by the Court-Martial Court after he, along with other soldiers, sued the army’s commander, seeking compensation for alleged torture and unlawful arrests against them in 2015, following which the army accused them of mutiny.

On 29 July, Mahloko Mohlori, aged 60, died in police custody at Thaba-Tseka Police Station after being arrested for a traffic offence. The government autopsy report recorded poison as the possible cause of death, but the family doctor’s report confirmed the cause of death as respiratory failure.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In December, correctional officers severely assaulted at least 10 detainees (nine of whom were soldiers) at the Maseru Maximum Security Prison. One of them, civilian Tlotliso Bereng, suffered serious spinal injuries during the attack and was later transferred to South Africa for medical treatment.

Women’s rights

The UN Human Rights Committee concluded that the application of customary laws permit discrimination against women, particularly relating to inheritance of property, marriage, nationality, and access to land and chieftainship.

Right to work

Between 16 and 26 May, the Commissioner of Police imposed a nationwide curfew between 10pm and 4am to curb violent crime. The step was prompted by the killing of Ralikonelo Joki (see above, Right to privacy). The law society and business representatives criticized the curfew for its adverse effect on night-time business operations, including nightclubs, restaurants, bars, street vending and hawking, which had already suffered the economic impact of Covid-19.