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Court quashes rape conviction

Sello Morake

 

MASERU — Two Mafeteng men convicted of raping a 32-year-old woman on June 30 2005 were on Friday set free by the High Court.

Sechaba Serutla, 22, and Thinyane Molise, 22, had pleaded guilty to the offence when they appeared before the Mafeteng Magistrate’s Court on June 15 last year.

Their case was subsequently referred to the High Court because of the severity of the anticipated sentence.

The men faced a 15-year jail term, according to Section 3 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act.

But the accused, through their lawyer Zwelakhe Mda, had later said they wanted a retrial.

They alleged they had pleaded guilty to the charge under duress after they had been tortured by investigating officers. 

The case was then brought before Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase at the High Court on March 1 for review, with judgment set for March 19.

On Friday, Justice Mahase set the men free telling the court reasons for their acquittal would be made available in due course.

“The application has been granted. The accused are to be freed from jail,” the judge said.

In asking for acquittal, Mda said the accused had not confessed voluntarily. 

“The accused were charged under Section 3 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act and pleaded guilty involuntarily,” he said.

“The magistrate referred the matter to the High Court for sentence.

“On interviewing the accused, I discovered there were third-degree methods used by the police against my clients.”

Mda told the court the accused had issued affidavits of what happened when they were arrested and taken into police custody on June 12 2009.

“Serutla wrote an affidavit in which he said: ‘I was shocked and surprised when I was arrested by the police with my co-accused, Molise, on a sexual offence and subsequent to our charge we were taken to Mafeteng Police Station,’” he told the court.

According to Mda, his clients were allegedly tortured by troopers only named as Mokone and Mosuoe.

“They were suffocated several times and forced to confess,” he said.

“The accused said they never raped their accuser.

“My clients said they pleaded guilty because they were tortured and threatened that if they didn’t plead guilty they were going to be beaten up again.”

Mda said because the confession had allegedly been coerced, his clients wanted a retrial.

“There are circumstances which have been clearly spelt out — the accused were forced into confessing to the crime,” he said.

“The accused ought not to have been convicted. We plead to the court for a retrial.

“If the magistrate had not convicted the accused, the High Court would be at liberty to reach any conclusion.”

Mda, though, said there was no evidence or records to show the accused were tortured.

“They were put in remand prison without filling any medical forms,” he said.

“We are in a situation whereby the constitution protects the accused by ensuring a fair trial.

“These are people who appeared in the magistrate’s court without representation.”

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