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Army takes on human rights lawyers  

by Sunday Express
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‘Lawyers must have been taught to respect those in authority as the Bible dictates in Romans 13’, says army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

The military has accused Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR) of disrespecting government through “a highly controversial letter written in a very disrespectful language towards those in authority”.

On 18 February 2016, the LLHR issued a statement condemning the arrest of Attorney Khotso Nthontho and attack on his home the very day he was taken into custody for allegedly lying under oath.

Attorney Nthontho was arrested on 12 February in Maseru and charged with perjury he allegedly committed in the Court of Appeal in November last year while representing three members of the LDF accused of mutiny.

However, the lawyer was released the same day he was arrested following an urgent High Court application by his wife, ‘Mathato, and 10 of his colleagues.

Advocate Zwelakhe Mda

Advocate Zwelakhe Mda

The prominent Maseru lawyer is among a team of legal practitioners representing 23 LDF members accused of plotting to remove the army command alongside the now-deceased former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao.

In a statement signed by their president, King’s Counsel (KC) Zwelakhe Mda, the LLHR said they saw Attorney Nthontho’s arrest and attack on his home as a “dangerous trend worth condemning”.

The lawyers also noted the “intimidation” of another lawyer, Advocate ’Mole Kumalo, late last year “by faceless characters at his residence, putting his life and those of his family in danger”.

Advocate Kumalo is also representing some of the detained soldiers, whose trial has since started before a Court Martial.

“As Lawyers for Human Rights, we see this as a dangerous trend worth condemning. We do this not in defence of any of our own against arrest based on reasonable suspicion of trespassing the law, for that would be in compliance with the imperatives of the rule of law, but to call upon the police and or the army to discharge their mandate strictly within the confines of the law,” the lawyers noted.

They further wrote: “Preceding his arrest was some utterance by a Colonel of the Lesotho Defence Force to clients that the army was intending to arrest their Attorney; a couple of days later Attorney Nthontho was arrested and detained on a charge of defeating the ends of justice; his colleagues applied for his release in the High Court and an order was granted for him to be released; and later on the same night of his release his house was attacked and partly destroyed.

“The above facts speak to the low and despicable level to which some elements and handlers within our society have sunk in their relentless pursuit of a project to undermine the rule of law in the misguided belief that the savior of democracy and justice is in the bullet and not the ballot. It stands to reason therefore that it is not an abstruse proportion that the Colonel and his operatives who threatened the arrest of Attorney Nthontho were the ones who attacked the lawyer’s house, taking umbrage at his release from police custody.”

The lawyers further said in discharging their “constitutional obligations”, they are “not in the business of bringing joy or happiness to those who undermine the Constitution or persecute members of society”.

Their statement continued: “Serving without fear, favour or prejudice and being respecters of no man but the law, puts lawyers on the inevitable collision course with the enemies of democracy, rule of law and justice. This collision is part of the age-old struggle against tyranny, arrogance of powers and all manner of evil characteristic of haters of national stability, peace and progress.”

In an equally hard-hitting letter, the LDF has written to KC Mda, describing the LLHR correspondence as “one of the most disturbing statements made against those in authority; a matter that needs not be left unattended”.

The letter, dated 23 February 2016, is signed by LDF commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, and reads in part: “We have read and understood the contents of the letter dated 08/02/2016 from Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR). We hereby submit our response as follows:

“The heading of the letter highlighted the ‘…intimidation and attacks on lawyers.’ The body of the letter speaks of only two lawyers, who are alleged to have been intimidated and attacked. In Lesotho, there are more than 100 lawyers. Thus, the number of two lawyers does not even count to any significant number of lawyers in the Kingdom {sic}.

“The statement/heading, therefore, is fallacious more especially when the letter did not disclose any grounds warranting them to be treated so special by LLHR. We noted, without acceding, the contents herein. Our understanding is that the statement that Advocate Mole Kumalo was intimidated by faceless characters at his residence while he was ‘…representing some soldiers in habeas corpus cases’ is seeking to insinuate that ‘the faceless characters’ are associated with the Lesotho Defence Force ; a matter that is considered so unfortunate and unfounded, if that is the rationale behind such statement as it appears ex facie.

“Our above understanding is strongly backed up by the last statement in the same paragraph thereof that ‘…to call upon the…army to discharge their mandate strictly within the confines of the law.’ The question is, what is it that the army has done beyond the confines of the law in discharge of its mandate?’ Our understanding is that for the sub-paragraph to score substance and credibility, it was incumbent upon the writer to have clearly stated the names of Colonel and clients, place and time where the utterance was made.

“Standing as it, the sub-paragraph lacks foundation but only seeks to create unnecessary doubts towards the loyalty of Colonels within the Defence Force. We, therefore, invite the LLHR to provide us with further particulars on the matter as indicated above for the sub-paragraph to carry weight worthy for consideration.”

The LDF commander says the LLHR had not been honest and “played an unwarranted game of non-disclosure of material point”.

The writer of the letter, he continued, “was not barred to have indicated that the Attorney was arrested by members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), and rightly so arrested, and detained in one of the LMPS cells in Maseru”.

The only reason for the writer to have “hidden, not omitted, such important information was so that the innocent reader may read sub-paragraph 2.2 together with paragraph 2.1 and come to the conclusion that the Attorney was arrested and detained by the LDF. This we see as a continuation of an unfortunate smear campaign against the good name of the LDF by LLHR,” added Lt-Gen Kamoli.

He continues: “The names of the attackers, if known, should have been disclosed to give the passage substance. Notwithstanding, if the contents of the sub-paragraph hold the truth, the matter will suitably be dealt with by the LMPS, not the LDF. Basically, contents of paragraphs 1 and 2 thereof are irrelevant to the LDF as illustrated above.

“Initially, under sub-paragraph 2.1 thereof, it was ‘…some utterance by a Colonel of the LDF to clients that the army was intending to arrest their Attorney’, now it is ‘…the Colonel and his operatives who threatened the arrest of Attorney….’ The contents appear to be contradicting themselves on these parts.”

Lt-Gen Kamoli says the arrest of Attorney Nthontho was “rightly carried out by another institution” and not the military.

“Thus, it makes no sense for the writer to put any blame on LDF in that regard. The common principle and well-known fact is that: ‘Truth is very consistent’. The contents of this paragraph relating to Colonel and his operatives reading them together with the ones of sub-paragraph 2.1 thereof gravely breached on the stated principle; there is no truth on the matter.

“Perhaps it would have served justice if the writer had defined the term ‘arm personnel’ since we do not have such institution in Lesotho, unless the writer was still on his ploy to suggest that such personnel refers to the LDF. A matter which is highly regrettable, if that was going on in the mind of the writer.

“If the writer was having LDF in mind when he used the phrase ‘arm personnel’, it is the appropriate time for the writer to know that the LDF does not ‘undermine the Constitution’ or ‘persecute …members of society’.  Our statement is backed up by the fact that the writer manifestly and palpably failed to provide the facts in support of such unfortunate and unfounded assertions relating to undermining of the Constitution and persecution of members of society.

“It would have been fair on the part of the writer to have taken a further step and tell the names of those whom he considers being the ‘…tyranny, arrogance of power and …heaters of national stability, peace and progress.’ Lawyers must have been taught to respect those in authority as the Bible dictates in Romans 13. The writer cannot submit the letter to those in authority of the government simply to misleadingly inform them inter alia that lawyers are ‘…respecters of no man…’ Perhaps the writer’s statement covers certain portfolio of lawyers in Lesotho, especially within the district of Maseru.”

Lt-Gen Kamoli also notes the writer “quickly rushes into drawing unqualified conclusions without having presented necessary premises”.

It continues: “Even in this paragraph, like in others as already indicated previously herein, the writer is still unable to provide the names of the institutions or individuals whom he considered were fond of ‘persecuting others under the guise of law-enforcement’. Instead, the writer continues to write rhetoric to those in authority. That may be construed as an insult to the authority under pretext of protection of human rights.

“The question that still has to be answered by the writer is: ‘Who is sowing these “seeds of fascism and/or the monster of fascism?” There is no dictatorship in Lesotho. Lawyers have not been given any special license to insult those in authority under pretext of protecting and promotion of human rights. It must be noted as a shame and despair on the part of such lawyers. If there are offences committed, such as the ones alleged in the case of the Attorney, let the matter be reported to the LMPS and independent investigations be undertaken accordingly.

“It is disturbing ground that an Attorney has been intimidated, if indeed he has been, and punished ‘for gallantly championing the rights of soldiers.” We reiterate the problem with the writer to be fallacious in his address; there are no facts in support of the assertion that the Attorney is being intimidated, a matter that is untrue because the writer has repeatedly failed to provide the facts in support thereof.

“The Attorney has other clients other than the soldiers. Then the question is: ‘what is it that has empowered the writer to draw a conclusion that the Attorney is being intimidated, a matter that has already been denied, on account of his representation towards soldiers currently facing mutiny charges in the Court Martial?’ It is a fallacious inference.”

The army commander further asks the LLHR why it did not condemn the shootings which took place in the Maseru taxi rank area.

“The previous months, in the district of Maseru around the taxis stop near Sefika Mall, some aggressors shot dead some people. Disappointedly, the LLHR has never issued any statement to condemn such nauseating acts. But in a speculative matter of the Attorney – its brother/colleague – the LLHR is able to stand on its feet and submit a highly controversial letter, written in very disrespectful language towards those in authority. The writer said, the lawyers are ‘…respecters of no man…’ This is considered to be one of the most disturbing statements made against those in authority; a matter that needs not be left unattended.”

Contacted for a comment yesterday, Advocate Mda (KC) said: “We have noticed their reaction to our statement. They are in denial of the inferences and conclusions we have made with regard to our appeal that they should do things within the confines of the law. Well, it is within their right to react whichever way they feel.

“However, we are surprised that, instead of focusing on the main issue being our appeal to them to act by the law, they accuse our organisation of a smear campaign against their good name. We have no interest in the good name of the LDF. In fact, we cannot be judges to that. History is the best judge to determine whether the army has a good name or not.

“We hope, as they say our matter should not be left unattended, they will act in accordance of the law in whatever reaction they are going to take. We do want them to react. This is why we made the statement. We made a disturbing statement, as they put it, because we want a reaction.”

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