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EU speaks on ex-minister Lehata’s rape trial deal

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

EUROPEAN Union (EU) Ambassador to Lesotho, Christian Manahl, has shared his thoughts on the recent controversial out-of-court deal which enabled former Law and Constitutional Affairs to escape trial for raping a 17 year old orphan in January 2018.

Dr Manahl said although out-of-court settlements were lawful, there was need to ensure that victims were not intimidated into agreeing deals that prejudiced them and benefitted suspects.

“My understanding is that the acquittal (of Mr Lehata) was based on an out-of-court settlement. This is a legal procedure but those who help facilitate such settlements have to be careful that the unequal social status of the two sides (victim and suspect) does not result in intimidation,” Dr Manahl said in a recent interview with the Sunday Express.

Mr Lehata served in the Law and Constitutional Affairs portfolio under the previous seven parties’ coalition of then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili which reigned from March 2015 to June 2017.

He was arrested in June 2018 on charges of raping a 17 year old orphan in January 2018 and he was released on a M500 bail the following month. As a result of the rape, the girl fell pregnant and gave birth in October last year.

But instead of standing trial for the alleged offence, Mr Lehata successfully negotiated a controversial deal to evade trial. On 25 July 2019, charges against Mr Lehata were dropped after he struck a deal with the Magistrates’ Court to build a house for his victim and the child and also pay her a monthly fee of M1000 as maintenance for the minor child. The deal was endorsed by southern region Chief Magistrate Manyathela Kolobe.

The deal to withdraw the rape charges against Mr Lehata attracted the ire of legal experts including University of Limpopo public law professor, Hoolo Nyane, who described it as improper and irregular.

Human rights lawyer and women’s rights activist, Lineo Tsikoane, has also lambasted the state for allowing Mr Lehata to go unpunished for the alleged offence. Advocate Tsikoane said “Lesotho was gradually becoming the rape capital of the world” as the state was allowing those with money to get away with crimes while failing vulnerable women in the process.

Former Social Development minister, ‘Matebatso Doti, who worked hard to ensure the offence was not swept under the carpet allegedly by relatives of the orphaned minor, described the release of Mr Lehata as “a slap on our faces for all our efforts to find protection and justice for that young girl”.

Ms Doti also said that Mr Lehata’s release was proof that the justice system in the country was compromised.

“I was so sad when I read that he (Mr Lehata) had been released. I am still sad even today.

“Letting him go like that is like a slap on our faces for all our efforts to find protection and justice for that young girl. I was so angry when I heard that he had been released but I had to accept it because I am no longer in cabinet and there was nothing I could do about it,” Ms Doti said in a recent interview with the Sunday Express’ sister Lesotho Times publication.

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