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Bid to smuggle out coup plotters

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Nat Molomo

MASERU — The Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) says it is has information of a covert plan to help the eight men accused of trying to assassinate the prime minister and topple the government escape from prison.
LCS commissioner, Mojalefa Thulo, made the revelation in a report to justify why eight men charged with attempting a coup in April 2009 were being kept in shackles day and night.
Thulo prepared the report after Advocate Thulo Hoeane, who is representing Solomon Mabasa and Antonio Lopez, told the court that the suspects could not concentrate on their trial because they are always in chains.
Hoeane told the court “this amounted to torture and inhuman treatment and is unacceptable, and I request the intervention of the court to put to an end this type of treatment”.
Justice Thamsanqa Nomngcongo then asked the LCS to explain why Mabasa, Lopez, Fransisco Alberto Mandlate, Mangani Malenge, Abel Nhatsave, George Thomas, Angelo Mondlani and Rocky Masinga were being kept in chains.
In the report submitted to Justice Nomngcongo on February 17 Thulo said there are allegations that there are some covert operations which are “planned outside the corrections set-up to set free the suspects in question by whatever means”.
He said the information of a rescue plan had been gathered by the LCS’ intelligence unit.
That information, Thulo said, has been confirmed by “other members of the intelligence community in the country”.
He said the chaining of the suspects was a preemptive measure.
“Much as the authorities cannot predict the exact date and time of the operation, we strongly anticipate that the magnitude of the external force during that operation will out-compete the available resources in the correctional facilities,” Thulo said.
“In an effort to counteract or at least delay the planned operation it has been agreed that the said suspects be subjected to mechanical restraints even at night time.”
This chaining, he added, “is by no means aimed at torturing the inmates, but is only applied as an additional security measure”.
The commissioner did not reveal who was planning the operation but he indicated that the threat is real.
He said in deciding to keep the suspects in chains prison authorities had considered the nature of the violent operation they had launched on April 22, 2009.
Their attack on Makoanyane Military Barracks and the State House had shown that the suspects have either military or paramilitary training, the commissioner added.
“Under the classification policy of the department the inmates who have undertaken training that is calculated to be more intense than the normal training of the Correctional staff are classified under high profile inmates,” Thulo said, adding that the these types of offenders “need ultra-maximum security to curb external threats”.
Thulo also admitted that Lesotho’s prisons, most of which were constructed during the colonial era, “have not been able to keep pace with the ever-increasing crime trends”.
He blamed the situation on budget constraints.
“Most of the challenges facing the department of correctional services would be addressed smoothly were it not due to the prevailing financial constraints.”
Advocate Hoeane told the Sunday Express he was not convinced by Thulo’s explanation for keeping the suspects in chains at night.
He dismissed allegations that the inmates might be smuggled out of prison as mere speculation.
“I will therefore take this matter to court to ensure that this type of treatment comes to an end,” Hoeane said.
“Every person is entitled to dignity and to be treated in a humane manner”.
The suspects are facing 31 charges that include murder, attempted murder, illegal possession of firearms, robbery and illegal entry into Lesotho.
The eight were part of a group of 16 mercenaries who slithered into the country on April 22, 2009 on a mission to topple the government and assassinate Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
Seven were arrested in South Africa, four were shot dead and two were caught.
One of the suspects has turned state witness while the other died in prison last year.
Makotoko “Mashai” Lerotholi who was said to have planned the mission died in October 2009.

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