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Detained soldiers in new bid for freedom


army-boots’Marafaele Mohloboli 

THREE detained members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) have filed an application before the High Court seeking release and permanent immunity from prosecution among other prayers.

Sergeant Mokhobo, Corporal Lipoto and Lance Corporal Molefi allege their continued detention at Maseru Maximum Security Prison is unlawful.

The soldiers are part of 23 LDF members who were arrested between May and June 2015 for allegedly plotting to violently remove the LDF command.

Seven of the soldiers have since been released from Maseru Maximum Security Prison and placed under open arrest, which is a form of bail in the military. The other 16 remain in detention.

The trio also insist they were tortured at Setibing army base following their arrest and that their detention was in flagrance of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Commission of Inquiry recommendation for an amnesty.

They pray for the promotion of Major-General Mojalefa Letsoela from the rank of brigadier to be deemed “irregular and of no legal force” and for the Court Martial he presides over to be disqualified on the grounds of “institutional bias”.

The applicants cite LDF commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, Major-General Lineo Poopa, Defence Minister Ts?eliso Mokhosi, Director of Military Intelligence Lieutenant Colonel Tumo Lekhooa, President-Court Martial Major General Mojalefa Letsoela, Prosecutor-Court Martial, Attorney General Ts?okolo Makhethe Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili as first to ninth respondents, respectively.

In support of their case, Sergeant Mokhobo wrote an affidavit detailing the nature of their case, noting: “I aver that for inexplicable reasons, the Lesotho Defence Force rejected my representations to be placed on open arrest and executed their decision to keep me under close arrest in a way that eroded and negated all reasonableness.

“. . . I am sick and am having a serious operation on my genitals which they (LDF) know about. The tortures (sic) I suffered in their hands worsened and risked my health.

“It suffices to mention that I narrated my chest problems to Judge (Semapo) Peete that I already had an operation for hydro seal and I was kicked at the genetalia (sic) that has been medically operated to such an extent that I was no more able to control urine.”

He adds: “As I understand the position of the law, I ought not to have been remanded because my arrest and detention did not follow due process of the law, the fact that I was tortured on its own warranted that I be released.”

Sergeant Mokhobo also argues their continued detention could not be justified but was a result of the “gross unreasonableness” of Major-General Poopa.

“It is my respectful submission that there are no sound reasons which have been rendered by the 2nd respondent (Major-General Poopa) justifying my continued detention notwithstanding the fact that I placed before him peculiar features of the case which may be worthy of assessment,” states Sergeant Mokhobo.

He says Major-General Poopa should have placed him under open arrest in like manner to six of his colleagues “after stiff conditions were put in place to address the apprehensions of their flight and many other factors”.

“There are no reasons for this deferential treatment,” he argues.

Sergeant Mokhobo alleges their continued detention was unjustified since the President of the Court Martial Appeal Court had not been appointed.

“My detention under close arrest is inconsistent with the rights of a serving soldier detained and waiting trial under military law. I have been waiting trial from May 2016 to date,” he says.

The panel of the Court Martial, Sergeant Mokhobo claims, was promoted contrary to the LDF promotion policy “specifically for the alleged mutiny trial”.

“It is my case that Major-General Letsoela is on temporary appointment to the position of Major-General specifically for the alleged mutiny trial,” says Sergeant Mokhobo.

“He is acting in a non-existing post as all the Generals are all occupying their positions. In terms of promotion policy . . . of Lesotho Defence Force, a promotion shall not be done except where there is a vacancy in the office.”

Corporal Lipoto’s affidavit stresses he was tortured: “I want to certify that I was badly tortured during the interrogation at Setibing Military base. For my part, I related my torture ordeal in open court before Justice (Teboho) Moiloa during the time I was produced before High Court during the habeas corpus application that my son filed after I disappeared with people I could not identify. They later became known as the LDF arresting team.”

“As I understand the position of the law, I ought not to have been remanded because my arrest and detention did not follow due process of the law. The fact that I was tortured on its own warranted that I be released. It is incorrect for anybody to suggest I was not tortured because it is me who suffered torture.”

Lance-Corporal Molefi also echoes the allegation of torture, saying:  “I have recently heard that the Prime Minister is denying that we were tortured. For the record, and under the circumstances set out above, it is not wise to engage in debate about this obvious matter with him. I wish to emphasise that this does not require an independent reconsideration save to add that nobody appears prepared to apologise for it.”

The case will be heard on 15 August this year.

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