Local journalists, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho and other rights groups on Thursday spoke in one voice that the Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill 2023 is a threat to press freedom.
They said this during a dialogue between the Ministry of Information, Communications, Science and Innovation and journalists, civil society organisations, human rights defenders organisations, and other stakeholders.
The bill was withdrawn from parliament last week by the Minister of Information, Communications, Science and Innovation, Nthati Moorosi.
This was after it was reinstated last month to the stage it was before the 10th parliamentâ€™s dissolution last year.
Representatives from MISA Lesotho, Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN), Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and Development for Peace Education (DPE), among other, and individual journalists attended the meeting.
National director of MISA Lesotho, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, stated that if passed into law in its current form, the Act will breach fundamental human rights and freedoms, more especially, press freedom and the right of access to information.
â€œThis bill is not only made for the government ministries but it is a document meant for the public,â€ Ntsukunyane said.
â€œAs the media we are worried about these clauses from section 21 up to 59, we see provisions that are going to infringe on the freedom of the press. They are going to restrict the core business of journalism which is investigation,â€ he added.
An investigative journalist, Pascalinah Kabi, who works with the MNN Center for Investigative Journalism echoed Ntsukunyaneâ€™s sentiments.
â€œThe Bill seeks to criminalise journalism because as a journalist, there is no other way I can do my work without having access to information, the very same information which you it will be unlawful for me to access it,â€ Kabi said.
â€œThis implies that the government wants journalists of Lesotho to stop doing their work,â€ she added.
Advocate Lepeli Moeketsi, from Seinoli Legal Centre highlighted that the bill did not only restrict journalistsâ€™ work but also violated their rights.
â€œAs a human rights defender, my work is to hold the government accountable for human rights violations. Looking at this bill and provisions in it, I see that we are going to end up having a government which is not accountable to anyone if we leave these sections as they are,â€ Moeketsi said.
â€œThis bill fails dismally to strike a balance between constitutionally protected civil liberties and the interest of the state on national security,â€ he added.
After listening to all presentations, Moorosi decided to allow all stakeholders to write and submit their views on the bill.
â€œWhen I listen to the debate, there is nothing stopping us from passing this law especially when we heard that we can as well amend it after adoption,â€ she said.
â€œWe are in crisis caused by the fact that Lesotho does not yet have cyber security law. We are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and cyber-crime has skyrocketed.
â€œGo and put all recommendations in writing and what you wish to be changed in the law. As the ministry, we will do our homework on the technicalities,â€ she continued.
â€œI listened to journalists and their concerns and I think we need to go deep into this law so that they understand it better. We need to have a glossary that defines these words that seem ambiguous and seem to be sending a wrong message,â€ she said.