Editor’s shooting: soldiers apply for discharge
FOUR soldiers accused of shooting former Lesotho Times and Sunday Express editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, have been granted leave by Senior Magistrate Peter Murenzi to apply for a permanent stay of their trial in the Constitutional Court.
The four are Khutlang Mochesane, Rapele Mphaki, Nyatso Tšoeunyane and Maribe Nathane.
They are accused of the attempted murder of Mr Mutungamiri who they shot and injured outside his Upper Thamae, Maseru home in the early hours of 15 July 2016.
They were initially charged alongside fellow soldier Mochesane Phusumane who was later turned into state witness and released from remand prison in September 2019.
This has not gone down well with the quartet who argue that turning Phusumane into a state witness will prejudice their case as he is aware of how they intend to present their defence.
They therefore instructed their lawyer, Advocate Kabelo Letuka, to petition Magistrate Murenzi to grant them leave to apply for discharge in the Constitutional Court on the grounds that they were unlikely to receive a fair trial since Phusumane had been turned into a state witness.
“The accused raise points of law and they seek referral to the Constitutional Court,” Adv Letuka told the Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.
“The accused undertake to file the constitutional application before 23 October 2020.
“They want the Constitutional Court to interpret whether the crown’s decision to turn one Mochesane Phusumane into a state witness did not contravene section 12 of the constitution which speaks to a fair trial of accused persons.
“They want the Constitutional Court to determine whether their trial cannot be stayed permanently due to the conduct of the crown,” Adv Letuka said.
Magistrate Murenzi subsequently granted them leave to approach the Constitutional after Crown Counsel, Adv Letsatsi Mosoeu, had said the state did not oppose the accused’s petition.
“A stay of these proceedings is granted and the matter is stood down until after the outcome of the accused’s constitutional application. The accused are remanded to 22 October 2020,” Magistrate Murenzi ordered.
The soldiers’ latest Constitutional Court application follows a pattern in which other soldiers, including former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, have repeatedly filed applications to delay their trials for various crimes committed from 2014 to 2017.
Mr Mutungamiri’s 15 July 2016 shooting occurred at a time of rampant rights abuses by soldiers led by Lt-Gen Kamoli. Then Lesotho Times journalist Keiso Mohloboli was at the time interrogated by police and military officials in connection with a story about the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
The story was about the negotiations for an exit package for the then army commander, Lt-Gen Kamoli, who was subsequently forced to retire on 1 December 2016 in line with a Southern African Development Community (SADC) recommendation for his removal from post.
The Lesotho Times’ publisher and chief executive officer, Basildon Peta, was also charged with criminal defamation arising from a complaint laid against the newspaper by Lt-Gen Kamoli over the satirical column, Scrutator.
Two days after Mr Peta appeared in court, Mr Mutungamiri was shot. One bullet broke two of his right-hand fingers and another shattered his lower jaw, requiring him to undergo specialised dental surgery to manage the jaw and to remove a bullet that lodged behind his left ear. He also sustained eye injuries after broken window glasses entered and cut his eyes, among other facial injuries.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) said that its investigations revealed that the attempted assassination of Mr Mutungamiri was an operation authorised by the army.