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Amnesty on exiled fugitives questioned

Bongiwe Zihlangu

MASERU — The pardoning of four Basotho nationals who fled to South Africa in the past decade is in breach of the constitution and sets a bad precedent legally and politically, analysts said yesterday.
’Malefa Mapheleba, Litšitso Sekamane, Thabiso Mahase and Rethabile Mokete were last week pardoned by His Majesty King III and are now free to return to Lesotho after spending five and eight years, respectively, in self-imposed exile.
A prominent member of the Basotho National Party (BNP), Mapheleba, fled Lesotho in 2004 after she was suspected of aiding convicted former police officer, Phakiso Molise, to escape from prison.
Molise was later located in South Africa, recaptured and extradited to Lesotho to complete his jail sentence.
Sekamane, a former MP and commander of the now defunct Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA), Mokete aka “Mosotho Chakela”, a popular famo music artiste and Mahase, the estranged husband of High Court Judge Justice ’Maseforo Mahase, skipped the country in 2007 having been charged with high treason after they were linked to post-electoral attacks on the homes of ministers Mothetjoa Metsing, Motloheloa Phooko, Lebohang Ntšinyi and Popane Lebesa.
They were never tried in courts of law.
The previous government led by Pakalitha Mosisili was negotiating
with South Africa to have the trio extradited.
Senior Inspector ’Mantolo Mothibeli confirmed yesterday that Sekamane had reported to the police headquarters but that the remaining exiles were still to contact the police.
Analysts who spoke to the Sunday Express yesterday said the constitution of Lesotho clearly states that the King’s Pardon can only be extended to “individuals who have been convicted”.
Section (1)(a) of the constitution states that “the King may grant to any person convicted of any offence under the law of Lesotho a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions.”
It further states that “the King may grant to any person a respite, either indefinitely or for a specific period, of the execution of any punishment
imposed on such a person for such an offence”.
Lira Theko, president of the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations, said if the constitution stated that people should be tried in courts of law “then that’s the way it should be”.
“I’ve never heard of people who are said to have committed a crime, being pardoned without having appeared before a court of law,” Theko said.
“It becomes even peculiar when it’s not clear what they are being pardoned for. If they are being pardoned by the King, why is it happening now? What did they do?”
According to Theko, if the exiles were being pardoned because they were associated with the current parties in the coalition government then “it sets a bad precedence”.
“If they are not treated from a legal perspective but politically, then it sets a very bad precedence,” Theko said.
“It should be determined if the manner in which they are returning to Lesotho is indeed within the boundaries of the law.”
Tlohang Letsie, a National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences, agreed that the pardon set “a bad precedence”.
“If you look at this issue from a purely legal point of view, it sets a bad precedence,” Letsise said.
“From a political point of view though, you’d expect pardons of that nature to be granted. It was inevitable that it would happen.”
Letsie added he had problems with the manner in which the return of the exiles was being rationalised.
“It’s being said they fled for reasons pertaining to politics, thus giving them a blanket with which to cover themselves so that the alleged attacks are no longer mentioned,” Letsie said.
He added that the provision for the pardon was made probably for those people who could have committed the alleged crimes “for the rulers today”.
However, NUL lecturer, Professor Motlamelle Kapa, had a different view, saying if those people fled for political reasons under the previous administration “then it means their crimes were politically motivated”.
“The new regime would have to call them back, especially if their crime was politically motivated. It’s simply that this government took a political decision,” Kapa said.
Kapa was adamant that the “the pardon does not undermine the law”.
“Government could have realised that their reasons for leaving were no longer valid and that they are not a threat to it. Any government would have made a similar decision,” he said.

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