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Court Martial proceedings suspended

by Sunday Express
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Billy Ntaote

The trial of 23 Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members accused of mutiny was on Friday adjourned to 1 December 2015.

The Court Martial hearing the case had been scheduled to convene on Monday, 5 October, but proceedings were deferred to the following day. The postponement was due to a High Court application the soldiers had filed seeking their release from Maseru Maximum Security Prison.

After the High Court granted their application, the trial got underway on Tuesday afternoon but with the soldiers still in custody after the LDF disregarded the ruling.

However, proceedings largely centered on the continued detention of the mutiny suspects in violation of the High Court ruling. The same argument also dominated Wednesday’s hearing.

Also on Wednesday, one of the detained soldiers’ lawyers, Advocate Khotso Nthontho, filed an application before the Court Martial requesting its judges to recuse themselves for fear of bias.

On Thursday, the soldiers were still in detention with more arguments about the incarceration taking centre-stage in the military court once again.

And when it convened on Friday, the court’s president, Major-General Mojalefa Letsoela, announced the adjournment.

However, Maj-Gen Letsoela said defence counsel should file their heads of argument by 14 October, while the LDF legal team led by Advocate Roland Suhr is expected to have responded by 27 October.

In the meantime, the soldiers remain in detention as Judge Advocate Justice Hancke said the Court Martial had no jurisdiction over their detention.

The soldiers, who were arrested between May and June this year, face three  charges, namely: The use of violence or threat of use of violence contrary to Section 48 (1) (a) of the LDF Act of 1996 read with sections 48 (2) and 103 (1) in the event that it is not proved that such mutiny involved the use of violence or threat of violence; Incitement to commit mutiny involving the use of violence or threat of use of violence contrary to Section 48 (1) (b) of the Act read with sections 48 (2) and 103 (1) in the event it is not proved such mutiny involved the use of violence or threat of violence; Failure to use utmost endeavours to suppress a mutiny or failure to report that a mutiny is taking place or is intended contrary to Section 49 of the Act.

Justice Hancke told the soldiers’ legal team comprising Advocates Nthontho, Tumisang Mosotho, Christopher Lephuthing, Monaheng Rasekoai, Koili Ndebele and Boi Thabane that they should approach the High Court over the release of the soldiers.

This was in response to Advocate Mosotho’s persistent questioning of the continued detention of the soldiers despite the High Court ruling.

Advocate Nthontho also submitted it was shocking the soldiers remained in custody when the army commander and defence minister had been served with court orders directing them to release them on 6 and 7 October, respectively.

“We have also noted that there is another order on Mohasi and two others (A High Court order issued by Justice Hlajoane for the release of three soldiers) that’s not being observed,” said Advocate Mosotho.

“I will not go to detention centres to consult my clients as they should have been released from close arrest and placed under open arrest by now.

“I can’t participate in an illegal act as these people should have been freed by now.”

Advocate Nthontho added: “We are interested to know what the Court Martial says about this order that our clients should be released.”

Advocate Ndebele also hammered on the issue: “There is a court order that says they have to be at home, but contrary to this order, they are unlawfully detained. The court cannot close its eyes. President, your juniors are the ones who are detaining these people illegally”.

But in response, Justice Hancke said the lawyers should approach the High Court regarding the detention.

Meanwhile, the lawyers have since file an application before the High Court, regarding the military’s failure to release the soldiers.

Justice Molefi Makara is set to hear the case on Friday this week.

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