Joint statement

Lesotho: Authorities Should Withdraw Communications Regulations

Intrusive new data-collection rules threaten privacy rights and online expression, and violate Lesotho’s constitution and treaty obligations.

In response to the promulgation of the Communications Regulations of 2021 by the government of Lesotho, which require registration of many electronic devices with the government and allow for government intrusion into private communications, Freedom House and the Media Institute of Southern Africa Lesotho (MISA Lesotho) issued the following joint statement:

“As organizations working on freedom of expression and opinion, we strongly condemn the introduction of these regulations by the government of Lesotho. The regulations contravene Lesotho’s constitution, as well as regional and international treaties the country has joined, and directly impact privacy rights and freedom of expression in the digital sphere,” said Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, director of MISA-Lesotho.

“Coming in the wake of recently proposed regulations that seek to restrict online expression and that violate citizen’s rights, this latest development is extremely worrying,” said Tiseke Kasambala, chief of party for Freedom House’s Advancing Rights in Southern Africa program. “We are calling on the government of Lesotho to immediately rescind these regulations.”

Background

The Communications Regulations, first introduced in May, require all people living or entering Lesotho to register their mobile handsets, tablets, and any other devices that use a SIM card; the SIM card itself; their physical address; and their biometrics with the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA). The Regulations also provide for the creation of a central database to store the information. and force telecommunications service providers to transmit all information captured from customers to the central database. Furthermore, the Regulations allow the LCA to hand over private communications between citizens to security agencies without consent and without court approval.

In October 2020, the government of Lesotho announced its intention to promulgate the Lesotho Communications Authority Rules of 2020, designed to police and regulate free speech online. Under these regulations, individuals with more than 100 followers on social media will be considered internet broadcasters and are required to register with the LCA. The registration process requires the provision of identity documents and proof of residence, and agreement to comply with the LCA broadcasting rules.

Section 14 of the Constitution of Lesotho (1993) states that the right to freedom of expression and of opinion is guaranteed, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and freedom to communicate ideas and information without intrusion. Furthermore, section 11 of the Constitution notes that every person shall be entitled to respect for their private and family life and their home. The intrusive nature of the measures also contradicts the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, particularly the principles of privacy and protection of personal information; privacy and communication surveillance; and legal framework for the protection of personal information.

Lesotho is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World.

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