THE treason trial of former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, former Communications, Science and Technology Minister Selibe Mochoboroane and two others has been postponed to 6 April 2020 pending the outcome of Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane’s constitutional court application to stop the trial from proceeding.
Mr Metsing who leads the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), has been charged with treason alongside Mr Mochoboroane, former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and an army officer, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane.
The charges are in connection with the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. Mr Metsing was deputy prime minister at the time of the attempted coup while Mr Mochoboroane was Communications Minister and LCD secretary general. The LCD was in a coalition with Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Basotho National Party (BNP). Lt-Gen Kamoli had been fired by Dr Thabane from his post as army commander on 29 August 2014 before allegedly orchestrating the 30 August 2014 attempted coup allegedly with the support of Messrs Metsing, Mochoboroane and Captain Nyakane. Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing had fallen out after the latter alleged that he was not being consulted on key decisions.
Lt-Gen Kamoli and Captain Nyakane are already in prison charged with the murder of police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko which occurred on 30 August 2014 during the attempted coup. In the murder trial, they are charged along with other soldiers, Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa.
Mr Metsing and his co-accused were supposed to stand trial for treason on 25 February 2020 but the trial was postponed after he and Mr Mochoboroane applied to the Constitutional Court for an order to stop their trial at least until after the implementation of the constitutional, security sector, media, judicial and governance reforms recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.
Botswana judge, Onkemetse Tshosa, initially postponed the matter to 5 March 2020 and on that day, he postponed it to 6 April 2020 after being informed that the two politicians’ constitutional application to stop the trial will only be heard on 31 March 2020.
On Thursday, Crown Counsel Advocate Naki Nku told Justice Tshosa that they could not proceed with the trial due to Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane’s constitutional application which will be heard by Acting Chief Justice, ‘Maseforo Mahase, and Justices Semapo Peete and Molefi Makara on 31 March.
“During the previous appearance on 25 February, the court had ordered that we report back today (5 March) to update the court on the developments of the constitutional case which affects this matter,” Adv Nku said.
“We cannot continue as scheduled because the constitutional application will only be heard on 31 March. Our hands are tied until the constitutional court pronounces itself on the other matter (Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane’s application to stop the treason trial). Therefore, we ask that this case be postponed to 6 April 2020 when we will find out whether we proceed or not.”
Justice Tshosa subsequently postponed the case to 6 April 2020 pending the outcome of Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane’s application.
Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane want the Constitutional Court to bar the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, from prosecuting them for treason on the grounds that the October 2018 agreement between the governing coalition and the opposition offers them immunity from prosecution for any crime until after the completion of the multi-sector reforms.
The October 2018 agreement paved way for Mr Metsing and other opposition leaders, who had been in exile, to return to Lesotho to participate in the processes towards the implementation of constitutional, security sector, media, judicial and governance reforms recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.
Among other things, clause 10 of that agreement states that “Mr Metsing and similarly placed persons in exile will not be subjected to any pending criminal proceedings during the dialogue and reforms process”.
It remains to be seen how the Constitutional Court will decide on the latest application as it had previously outlawed this particular clause 10 of the agreement between the government and the opposition. Justices Mahase, Peete and Makara declared clause 10 of the Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the coalition of opposition parties unconstitutional on 22 November 2018.
This after the late Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng’s father, Thabo Khetheng, had petitioned the court to declare the clause unconstitutional saying self-serving agreements between politicians could not outstrip the constitution. PC Khetheng was killed by fellow police officers on 26 March 2016.
In their constitutional application, Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane want the three High Court judges to rescind their 22 November 2018 judgement.