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Editor’s shooting trial resumes

 

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE trial of four soldiers accused of the July 2016 attempted murder of former Lesotho Times and Sunday Express editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, is expected to resume tomorrow in the Maseru Magistrates’ Court.

The trial will proceed tomorrow, Thursday and Friday. It will resume again from 1 to 5 August 2022 and then 30 August to 2 September 2022 before Senior Resident Magistrate Peter Murenzi.

The four are Rapele Mphaki, Khutlang Mochesane, Nyatso Tšoeunyane and Maribe Nathane. A fifth one, Mochesane Phusumane, was released in September 2019 after he opted to turn into a state witness.

When proceedings resume tomorrow, a second witness will take the stand and be led in the presentation of his/her evidence by prosecutor, Rethabile Setlojoane.

This publication understands that the identity of the witness has not been revealed beforehand for their own protection due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Mr Mutungamiri testified from 9 to 11 March this year. He was the first witness.

In his testimony, the former editor said he has been unable to practice his craft since his 9 July 2016 shooting by soldiers under the command of Tlali Kamoli.

He said he has been unable to work because of the injuries he sustained and the trauma that he still suffers from the incident.

He told Magistrate Murenzi that he remains paralysed despite all the multiple surgeries that have been done on him ever since the event.

He had been flown into the country from his native Zimbabwe by Africa Media Holdings, the publishers of the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express newspapers.  During that time he was placed under heavy security as he still feared for his life.

Mr Mutungamiri was left for dead when he was ambushed by soldiers as he arrived and attempted to open the gate at his home after finishing duty at the Sunday Express on 9 July 2016.

Mr Mutungamiri told Magistrate Murenzi he had undergone multiple operations to repair injuries by bullets that hit his body including the face. Although the shooting occurred in 2016, he still had to undergo another operation on his left eye.

The operation is meant to repair the damage caused by glass particles that entered the eye after bullets shattered his windscreen and other windows during the shooting. He also needed to get the screws on his left jaw tightened so he is able to function. All these were expensive procedures that he could not afford since he was no longer working, he said.

He told the fully packed courtroom that four men had fired at him as he drove into his home while he shouted for help. He fell unconscious as he was hit in the volley of bullets.

“I am still undergoing a series of operations on the left eye which was injured by glasses from the shattered windscreen,” Mr Mutungamiri said.

“The last eye operation was in Tanzania in March 2021. I still need to raise money for another operation on the eye. Apart from that, the screws on my jaw have started to loosen so I need to go back to the hospital for them to be fixed.”

He was subsequently cross-examined by defence lawyers, Advocates Letuka Molati and Karabo Mohau KC.

The two lawyers asked Mr Mutungamiri who wrote the Scrutator, a popular satirical column in the Lesotho Times. However, the former editor declined to answer the question. Instead, he said as the editor, he was responsible for every article carried by the newspaper.

The defence lawyers also wanted Mr Mutungamiri to admit that Scrutator had gone beyond being a satirical column but was instead “insulting” people. However, he refrained from commenting as the word insult meant different things to different people.

The conclusion of the trial will help achieve long-delayed justice for Mr Mutungamiri and the Lesotho Times. Shortly before his July 2016 shooting, the Lesotho Times had endured a difficult during which then Lesotho Times journalist, Keiso Mohloboli, was summoned for interrogation 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, Kamoli, in line with a Southern African Development Community (SADC) recommendation for his removal from post.

Lesotho Times publisher, Basildon Peta, was also summoned for questioning and interrogated by a group of about 15 heavily armed mostly military police officials. He was subsequently charged with criminal defamation arising from a complaint laid against the newspaper by Lt-Gen Kamoli over the satirical column, Scrutator. Mr Peta fought the charges and won a landmark victory when the Constitutional Court outlawed criminal defamation in 2018.

Commenting on the start of the trial, Mr Peta said it was commendable that those accused of shooting a journalist for simply doing his work had been arrested and arraigned before the courts.

 

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