HIGH Court judge, Justice Molefi Makara, praised the Lesotho Times and its sister Sunday Express publication for their “bold and non-partisan” reportage of the “outrageous incidents that occurred when this country was going through hard times”.
Justice Makara also described Lesotho Times editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, as an “apostle of truth” due to his bold leadership in steering both newspapers to accurately report on the events in the country up until he was shot in an attempted assassination by members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in July 2016.
The judge made the remarks on Thursday while delivering his verdict on the bail application of LDF officer, Mahanyane Phusumane, who is one of five soldiers accused of attempted murder.
Justice Makara ruled against Phusumane, saying that releasing him on bail would not be in the interest of justice as he is implicated in a serious crime which nearly cost the life of “an apostle of truth”.
The judge also noted that it took more than a year for the police to apprehend him and the other suspects and therefore releasing would “shock” the law enforcement agents.
Phusumane (37), Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47), Khutlang Mochesane (57), Nyatso Tšoeunyane (41) and Maribe Nathane (35) are all in custody awaiting trial for the attempted murder of Mr Mutungamiri. The editor was shot at his home in Upper Thamae in Maseru in the late hours of 9 July 2016 after knocking off from work.
Phusumane filed a bail application on 14 December 2017 petitioning the court to release him on the grounds that he was not a flight risk and that the prison conditions were not conducive to his health.
But the lawyer who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the crown, Advocate Thulo Hoeane, opposed the application on the grounds that Phusumane was a flight risk who could abscond as he was aware that if convicted, he faced a lengthy jail term.
Adv Hoeane also argued that Phusumane’s health condition did not warrant his release as he was consistently afforded medical attention by the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) whenever he needed it.
And on Thursday, Justice Makara ruled in favour of the prosecution and he commended Mr Mutungamiri for his “apostolic” work at the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express.
“It has transpired to the court that this man was an editor of the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express, Justice Makara said.
“He (Mr Mutungamiri) is a Zimbabwean who came to Lesotho to invest in the press. This man has acquitted himself as being bold in reporting outrageous incidents at the time when this country was going through hard times.
“The court also takes a judicial notice that he was a non-partisan in his job. He presented himself as an apostle of truth. This could be traced from the editorial comments in his editorial column.
“He was definitely a high profile figure. His shooting shocked the nation. It shocked the media both in Lesotho and outside the country.
“What this is indicative of radiates the impression that he was shot in the course of him disseminating information.”
Justice Makara also said that it took more than a year for the police to apprehend the suspects “and if a suspect is a soldier, and ultimately released on bail, that would shock the law enforcement agents”.
“The court commends the police for eventually apprehending the suspects and opposing this bail application.”
The judge said while it was “premature” to release Phusumane on bail, he had the right to reapply for bail if the attempted murder trial did not kick off within a reasonable time.
The five soldiers are expected to appear before Senior Resident Magistrate, Phethise Motanyane, on Thursday for the commencement of their trial.
The judge, however, lashed out at the police for being selective when opposing bail applications for murder suspects, saying they rarely oppose bail applications where the victims are ordinary citizens.
“The unfortunate part is that this happens selectively. Police hardly oppose bail applications such that bail has become an avenue for perpetrators to commit crime and get away with it.”