Mutiny trial post­poned

Lesotho Times - - News - Billy Ntaote

The Court Mar­tial on Mon­day post­poned to 6 Septem­ber 2016 the trial of 23 Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) mem­bers ac­cused of plot­ting to top­ple the army com­mand.

The post­pone­ment is to al­low the sol­diers’ chal­lenge of the le­gal­ity of their trial, which was re­ferred to the Court Mar­tial Ap­peal Court in Fe­bru­ary this year, to be fi­nalised.

The name of the Court Mar­tial Ap­peal Court’s pres­i­dent is set to be gazetted to­mor­row.

Of the 23 mutiny-ac­cused sol­diers who were ar­rested be­tween May and June 2015, seven have since been re­leased from Maseru Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity Prison and placed un­der open ar­rest, which is a form of bail in the mil­i­tary. The other 16 re­main in de­ten­tion.

The ac­cused sol­diers are Bri­gadier Mareka, Bri­gadier Poqa Mo­toa, 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.

The LDF says the al­leged plot was mas­ter­minded by for­mer army com­man­der Maa­parankoe Ma­hao, who was shot dead in Mokema on 25 June 2015 by sol­diers who had come to ar­rest him for the sus­pected re­bel­lion.

The 23 sol­diers have since ap­pealed judge­ments made by the Court Mar­tial on ob­jec­tions they had raised re­gard­ing the trial. Key among the is­sues to be heard by the Court Mar­tial Ap­peal Court is the sol­diers’ re­quest for their trial to be an­nulled.

how­ever, when the Court Mar­tial pro­ceed- ings re­sumed on Mon­day this week, Judge Ad­vo­cate SP hancke ad­vised the bench led by Ma­jor-gen­eral Mo­jalefa Let­soela that the trial should be post­poned to al­low the ap­peal time to be dis­posed of.

Judge Ad­vo­cate hancke fur­ther ad­vised the court should re­serve 19-23 Septem­ber for the con­tin­u­a­tion of the trial should the ap­peal fail.

Maj-gen Let­soela said the Court Mar­tial bench duly con­curred with the ad­vice.

Pros­e­cu­tor Ad­vo­cate Roland Suhr also told the court that a high Court judge would be ap­pointed pres­i­dent of the Court Mar­tial Ap­peal Court.

“i am ad­vised that steps have been taken to ap­point the pres­i­dent of the Court Mar­tial Ap­peal Court and the name of the ap­pointed judge would be gazetted on 13 May. Fol­low­ing that, the ex­pec­ta­tion is that the regis­trar would set the mat­ter be­fore the court for hear­ing.

“Due to these cir­cum­stances, it was pro­posed that this trial be post­poned to 6 Septem­ber 2016 to al­low for the dis­posal of the ap­peal lodged be­fore the Court Mar­tial Ap­peal Court.

“in the mean­time, the Crown asks that the week of Septem­ber 19th be re­served for the con­tin­u­a­tion of the trial. how­ever there has not been an agree­ment on this part with de­fence coun­sel,” said Adv Suhr.

he also noted that the ap­peal hear­ing could be in July and its judge­ment de­liv­ered in Au­gust hence the dates sug­gested for con­tin­u­a­tion of the trial.

“We be­lieve that the dates of Septem­ber 19 to 23 should be set for con­tin­u­a­tion of the trial,” said Adv Suhr.

For his part, Ad­vo­cate Mon­a­heng Seeiso Rasekoai, who is one of the lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the sol­diers, told the court the de­fence was com­forted that the pros­e­cu­tion un­der­stood the plight of the ac­cused who are still in de­ten­tion.

“We are com­forted if they are to try and deal with the mat­ter. And our ad­vice to the court is that we should deal with the post­pone­ment and leave the Court Mar­tial Ap­peal Court lo­gis­tics to that court.

“how­ever, our dis­com­fort is that to set dates for the con­tin­u­a­tion of the trial sug­gests that we are not go­ing to be suc­cess­ful with our ap­peal. it is psy­cho­log­i­cal prej­u­dice to pre-empt we would not be suc­cess­ful with our ap­peal. So those dates for con­tin­u­a­tion should be left out,” said Ad­vo­cate Rasekoai.

The lawyer fur­ther said the de­fence could still ex­plore fur­ther av­enues be­yond the Court Mar­tial Ap­peal Court should their ap­peal fail.

“We are chal­leng­ing the le­gal pro­pri­ety of this Court Mar­tial. So let’s not en­gage in any mat­ters that can prej­u­dice the Court Mar­tial Ap­peal Court and set dates. Our clear con­tention is that we have reser­va­tions for the mat­ter to be set for con­tin­u­a­tion on Septem­ber 19 to 23 as it says the pros­e­cu­tion har­bours the opin­ions that we are not go­ing to be suc­cess­ful with the ap­peal,” Ad­vo­cate Rasekoai said.

An­other de­fence coun­sel, Ad­vo­cate Christopher Le­phuthing, ex­pressed con­cern that the state had in­formed the ac­cused to pay their own le­gal fees.

“As the pros­e­cu­tion con­sid­ers the plight of the ac­cused who re­main un­der closed ar­rest, we also ask that their le­gal fees is­sue be re­vis­ited. i fore­see a sce­nario whereby prob­lems would arise when we should be con­tin­u­ing with their de­fence if they are not granted le­gal aid,” said Ad­vo­cate Le­phuthing.

But the pros­e­cu­tion con­tested the ar­gu­ments, say­ing set­ting dates for the con­tin­u­a­tion of the trial did not mean the ap­peal was be­ing pre-empted to fail.

Adv Suhr also said on the le­gal aid is­sue, the mat­ter had al­ready been dealt with be­fore the trial started.

“The le­gal team for the ac­cused was a dozen, i think. They are en­ti­tled to their own le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion but it doesn’t say they are en­ti­tled to do so with pub­lic money,” said Adv Suhr.

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