Sol­diers re­ject court mar­tial judges

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Billy Ntaote

A LAWYER rep­re­sent­ing 23 Le­sotho Defence Force (LDF) mem­bers charged with mutiny is chal­leng­ing the com­po­si­tion of the Court Mar­tial jury ap­pointed to pre­side over the trial.

Ad­vo­cate Khotso Nthon­tho is also ob­ject­ing to a con­ven­ing or­der is­sued by Defence Min­is­ter Tšeliso Mokhosi on 13 Au­gust 2015 es­tab­lish­ing the mil­i­tary court in ques­tion.

In his ap­pli­ca­tion filed be­fore the Court Mar­tial yes­ter­day, Ad­vo­cate Nthon­tho wants all the judges, save for South Africa’s Jus­tice SP Hancke, to re­cuse them­selves for fear they might not be fair to his clients.

In ad­di­tion, the lawyer says his clients are chal­leng­ing the ap­point­ment of Ma­jorGen­eral Let­soela as pres­i­dent of the Court Mar­tial, as well as the pres­ence of Colonel Rapele Mphaki, Ma­jor Ket­se­letso Mo­foka, Ma­jor Kamoho Ramor­it­ing, Ma­jor Tle­lima Ma­tia, and Ma­jor ‘Maretha­bile Ke­bane on the bench.

The sol­diers also want Wait­ing Mem­bers of the court, Cap­tain Noa­hana Le­bona, Cap­tain Tieho Rankhone, Cap­tain Se­natla Da­mane and Cap­tain Mo­suoe Letsie re­moved from the trial.

The sol­diers, who were ar­rested be­tween May and June this year, face three mutinyre­lated charges, which are: The use of vi­o­lence or threat of use of vi­o­lence con­trary to Sec­tion 48 (1) (a) of the LDF Act of 1996 read with sec­tions 48 (2) and 103 (1) in the event that it is not proved that such mutiny in­volved the use of vi­o­lence or threat of vi­o­lence; In­cite­ment to com­mit mutiny in­volv­ing the use of vi­o­lence or threat of use of vi­o­lence con­trary to Sec­tion 48 (1) (b) of the Act read with sec­tions 48 (2) and 103 (1) in the event it is not proved such mutiny in­volved the use of vi­o­lence or threat of vi­o­lence; Fail­ure to use ut­most en­deav­ours to sup­press a mutiny or fail­ure to re­port that a mutiny is tak­ing place or is in­tended con­trary to Sec­tion 49 of the Act.

Af­ter be­ing served with the ap­pli­ca­tion yes­ter­day morn­ing, Maj-gen Let­soela ad­journed pro­ceed­ings, say­ing the court was go­ing to con­sider the ap­pli­ca­tion be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion to­day.

In his af­fi­davit be­fore the Court Mar­tial, one of the sol­diers, Bri­gadier Poqa Mo­toa, ex­plains he, and his co-ac­cused, are rais­ing the ob­jec­tions be­cause they fear the of­fi­cers ap­pointed to the bench might be bi­ased against them.

Brig Mo­toa wrote in the af­fi­davit: “I and 22 other ac­cused per­sons ob­ject to the ap­point­ment of Ma­jor-gen­eral Let­soela (act­ing) on the ba­sis of the fol­low­ing rea­sons:

“The struc­ture of the LDF as pro­vided for in the staff list (es­tab­lish­ment list) pro­vides for one Lieu­tenant-gen­eral as the com­man­der of the LDF, two ma­jor gen­er­als-the Deputy Com­man­der and Chief of Staff. Ma- jor-gen­eral Lot­soela’s po­si­tion (act­ing Ma­jor-gen­eral) is not pro­vided for in the staff list. In other words, the two Ma­jor-gen­eral po­si­tions are not va­cant as the in­cum­bents are still in oc­cu­pa­tion.

He can­not there­fore act into a non-ex­is­tent po­si­tion. He has solely been pro­moted to han­dle a case con­cern­ing two of his se­niors in terms of rank and ex­pe­ri­ence at that is Bri­gadier Mareka and Bri­gadier Mo­toa and that is un­ten­able.”

Brig-mo­toa also says in the af­fi­davit that Maj-gen Let­soela and the rest of the mem­bers of the panel ex­cept the Judge Ad­vo­cate (Jus­tice SP Hancke) at­tended a May 18 meet­ing where Deputy Com­man­der, Ma­jorGen­eral Khoan­tle Motšo­motšo “ac­cused and con­cluded that the 23 ac­cused sol­diers were mutiny plot­ters”.

The state­ment, he adds, was cor­rob­o­rated by the defence min­is­ter on ra­dio on 21 July 2015 “where he said se­niors / old of­fi­cers had cheated ju­nior and young chil­dren in the army…that they have even called their par­ents to ad­dress such is­sues and such young­sters in the army have been rep­ri­manded”.

The Bri­gadier also says in his af­fi­davit that at a mil­i­tary pa­rade held on 26 May, “Maj-gen Motšo­motšo made a state­ment in front of the LDF com­man­der, se­nior of­fi­cers and other sol­diers that there are some black sheep in the army which must be dealt with le­gally im­me­di­ately and he was in­fer­ring to the al­le­ga­tions of a plot of mutiny within the army”.

Brig Mo­toa adds Maj-gen Let­soela was present when Maj-gen Motšo­motšo made the state­ment and ar­gues he there­fore, can­not be im­par­tial or “seen to be im­par­tial as he has al­ways been present in such meet­ings or mil­i­tary pa­rades to­gether with the rest of the mem­bers of the panel”.

He also claims the panel was pro­moted im­me­di­ately af­ter it was con­sti­tuted. The pro­mo­tion, he claims, was done solely by the LDF com­man­der “ex­cis­ing his dis­cre­tion con­trary to LDF pro­mo­tions pol­icy on skip­ping ranks”.

The pro­mo­tions, he fur­ther notes, “were pre-emp­tive re­ward to the panel by the com­man­der who has a vested in­ter­est in the out­come of the Court Mar­tial”.

“The panel has to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of mutiny and in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions as to the ve­rac­ity or oth­er­wise of claims to the ef­fect that the 23 ac­cused per­sons planned to kill other sol­diers who were per­ceived as be­ing sup­port­ive to or of Lt-gen Kamoli, who had not stood down as com­man­der af­ter Bri­gadier Ma­hao had been gazetted as com­man­der on the 29th of Au­gust 2014. The pro­mo­tion is con­sid­ered a pre-emp­tive re­ward to the panel by the com­man­der who has vested in­ter­ests in the out­come of the case.”

On the part of Colonel Mphaki, the sol- diers don’t want him on the panel be­cause “he heads a unit in the LDF- Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence which was tasked with ar­rest­ing, or kid­nap­ping or ab­duct­ing” them.

“The unit also in­ter­ro­gated the 23 ac­cused per­sons and as cited in the habeas cor­pus mat­ters be­fore the High Court. It de­fended as it was a party thereto.

“So Colonel Mphaki is privy to all the deal­ings of his unit and to the in­for­ma­tion ex­tracted through tor­ture. He can­not there­fore be im­par­tial,” noted Brig Mo­toa in the court pa­pers.

He also says the ac­cused are re­ject­ing the en­tire panel be­cause it was ap­pointed by Min­is­ter Mokhosi they said “is not im­par­tial but clouded with bias”.

Brig Mo­toa notes Mr Mokhosi’s state­ments in the me­dia clearly in­di­cate that he is not neu­tral in the mat­ter.

In ad­di­tion to Brig Poqa Mo­toa, the other sol­diers set to ap­pear be­fore the Court Mar­tial are Bri­gadier Mareka, Colonel Ste­mere, Colonel Kolisang, Ma­jor Makhetha, Cap­tain Chaka, Sec­ond Lieu­tenant Mo­hasi, Sergeant Mokhobo, Sergeant Se­makale, Sergeant Lekhabun­yane, Cor­po­ral Mokhoro, Cor­po­ral Let­si­lane, Cor­po­ral Lipoto, Cor­po­ral Manaka, Cor­po­ral Mo­hat­lane, Cor­po­ral Chele, Cor­po­ral Mot­seko, Lance Cor­po­ral Jobo, Lance Cor­po­ral Molefi, Lance Cor­po­ral Makhooane, Pri­vate Pama, Pri­vate Bolofo and Pri­vate Ral­itlemo.

LEFT to right: Ma­jor Gen­eral Li­neo Poopa, Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Tlali Kamoli and Ma­jor Gen­eral Mo­jalefa Let­soela.

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