Soldiers remanded over editor shooting

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Tefo Tefo

FIVE army officers, that include a Brigadier, are currently in prison awaiting trial in relation to a shooting that nearly cost the life of the Lesotho Times Editor Lloyd Mutungamiri in July last year.

Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Khutlang Mochesane (57) from Ha-Makhoathi, Mahanyane Phasumane (37) from Masowe, Nyatso Tšoeunyane (41) from Lesobeng, Ha-Khupiso in Thaba-Tseka and Maribe Nathane from Leribe appeared before the Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday charged with attempted murder.

According to the charge the five army officers shot Mr Mutungamiri at his home, Upper Thamae, in the late hours of the 9 July 2016 after knocking off from work.

They are expected to appear again before the Magistrate’s Court on remand on 13 December 2017.

However, they were told they could only apply for bail before the High Court because the Magistrate’s Court does not have the powers to hear bail applications for attempted murder charges.

Mr Mutungamiri was shot and critically wounded as he arrived at his Upper Thamae home from work in the late hours of 9 July 2016 in what appeared to be a carefully orchestrated assassination attempt.

His shooting followed a rough week for the Lesotho Times during when some staff, including current Editor Ngoni Muzofa, were summoned for heavy-handed interrogation by police and military officials over reports the newspaper had published about the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).

Publisher and chief executive officer, Basildon Peta, was charged with criminal defamation arising from a complaint laid against the newspaper by then LDF commander, Tlali Kamoli. Two days after Mr Peta had appeared in court, Mr Mutungamiri was shot. One bullet broke two of his right-hand fingers and another shattered his lower jaw, requiring him to undergo specialised dental surgery to manage the jaw and to remove a bullet that lodged behind his left ear. Mr Mutungamiri also sustained eye injuries after broken window glass entered and cut his eyes.

The Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) said that its investigations had revealed that the attempted assassination of Mr Mutungamiri was an operation authorised by the army.

Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli, told this sister’s publication, the Lesotho Times that their original suspicions that the army operation was probably organised after the “squabble” between the Lesotho Times and the LDF over reports carried in this newspaper about the LDF.

“The army’s dissatisfaction arose from what was said by the Lesotho Times in one of its editions sometime last year after which the LDF complained that they were not satisfied with the way the publication handled their issues.”

“It (the shooting) was thus an operation authorised by the LDF command…..,” said Commissioner Molibeli, adding that progress in investigating the shooting had been stalled because of a clique in the army and police that had been conniving to commit crimes and sweep them under the carpet.

“I sometimes feel sorry for the members of the LDF because most of them didn’t like what was happening…..Some of them were being asked to do things they really did not condone but it seems they just had to act against their conscience.”

As the police intensify a crackdown on suspects who let to go scot-free by the previous regime of former Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, Commissioner Molibeli said it was now becoming very easy for LDF members to cooperate with the police and point them in the right directions.   Their leads “never disappoint”, he said.

He said nothing had been done to investigate the shooting of Mr Mutungamiri until his intervention to get things done. Commissioner Molibeli was appointed to head the LMPS after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane won the June 2017 elections. He then set out to probe numerous cases of rights abuses perpetrated under the previous regime but which had largely been ignored.

“There were really no investigations into the shooting until recently when I called Ntate Lloyd ……… That is when we started the investigations,” Commissioner Molibeli said.

He said that there were clear indications that police and army officers had been conniving to commit criminal acts and to cover them up.  Police officers assigned to investigate atrocities committed by soldiers would simply sit on the files.

“This is why we cannot only arrest soldiers but also some of the police officers because there was a lot of conniving around criminality.

“They (police) condoned and formed part of a clique which committed crimes with impunity and I believe that we will still go after many suspects.”

Commissioner Molibeli said while it was the work of the police to prevent crimes like Mr Mutungamiri’s shooting through intelligence sharing, the working environment under the previous regime had proved to be toxic and volatile, making it hard to follow on tip-offs and for state security agencies to cooperate on fighting crime.

“I was part of the management (of the police) but I really did not know what was going on because we had a situation where we were working in silos. There were some who would not give information to the others.

“That is why I had initially decided to go home because it was useless to be in the office where I was just like a parcel abandoned there. Some people in the army and the police force were planning all of these (bad) things and it was nasty,” he said.

Mr Mutungamiri was shot shortly after he and former Lesotho Times reporter, Keiso Mohloboli, had been summoned to Mabote Police Station for interrogation by more than a dozen detectives and military officials over a story in which the Lesotho Times had reported about negotiations for an exit strategy for former army commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli. Ms Mohloboli had been retrieved from a hair salon.

Lt-Gen Kamoli was also miffed by a satirical parody in the Scrutator column about the former LDF commander’s perceived influence in politics at that time.  Scrutator had joked about a hypothetical “invasion” of a cabinet meeting by Lt-Gen Kamoli to prove his power by “ordering ministers to perform push-ups”. But the former army commander failed to appreciate the spoof and instead instituted criminal defamation charges with him being cited as the main complainant.

Mr Peta is still in court over the criminal defamation charges, preferred against him in his capacity as publisher and chief executive officer of the company.

Lt-Gen Kamoli was forced to retire on 1 December 2016, in line with a recommendation by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) whose Mphapi Phumaphi commission of inquiry had recommended his ouster from the command of the LDF as part of a rafter of measures to achieve stability in Lesotho.

Africa Media Holdings (AMH), the publishers of the Lesotho Times, have since commended Commissioner Molibeli and the LMPS for their sterling work in bringing the perpetrators of the dastardly act to book.

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