By Caswell Tlali
MASERU — A former soldier jailed after being convicted of attempting to kill four police officers during the 1998 political riots has hauled the government before the Constitutional Court for frustrating his bail application and appeal.
In 2002 the Maseru magistrate’s court jailed Bofihla Letuka for four years after finding him guilty on four counts of attempted murder.
The court said Letuka had shot at four police officers during the 1998 political riots.
He was in the company of three other police officers whom he says were later prosecuted by a military court while he appeared before the Maseru magistrate’s court.
Letuka who was fired by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) after his conviction says he was denied a chance to appeal both the conviction and the sentence.
His major gripe is that he had been convicted by a civilian court instead of facing a military court (court martial) as normally happens when a soldier commits a crime while on duty.
He says he should have been treated like the other three soldiers with whom he had been accused.
Letuka claims that when he tried to apply for bail pending his appeal against the conviction and sentence he was told that the South African magistrate who had been hired to preside over his case had completed his mandate and could no longer deal with his bail application.
“Immediately after my conviction and sentence I lodged an appeal. I was also told that the magistrate had completed his mandate and was going back to South Africa,” Letuka says.
“On the same day I also applied for bail pending appeal but I was told that the magistrate would not hear my application because he had finished his mandate.”
Letuka however continued to push for his bail application while serving his sentence.
He says at that time he received the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP)’s notice of intention to oppose his appeal.
But the case could not proceed because the record of his trial proceedings disappeared from the magistrate’s court. His appeal and bail application also disappeared.
In the end Letuka wallowed in jail for four years.
Now he says he wants justice.
when he was released in 2006 he continued his pursuit for justice.
He still wanted to appeal his conviction and sentence.
Letuka believes that if he could get the conviction and sentence overturned by the High Court the army will have to reinstate him or pay out his severance packages.
But since 2006 he has been battling to get the court records that could help him appeal.
Letuka told the Sunday Express that for the past 11 years he has been fighting for his right to appeal but the state has been thwarting his attempts. Letuka said he was unhappy that he was forced to complete his prison term despite that he had appealed against both conviction and sentence.
Letuka says upon his release he went from “office to office at the magistrate’s court searching for the records” so that he could proceed with his appeal.
The search took him four years until last year when he found the audio cassettes stashed in a cabinet in one of the court offices instead of the clerk of court chambers where they were supposed to be.
Letuka says his jubilation was however short-lived when he found that the cassettes could not be easily transcribed. He claims that the clerk of court said special equipment was needed to transcribe the cassettes.
He says the clerk said the court did not have that equipment.
An expert who was approached allegedly said he wanted M59 000 to transcribe the 59 cassettes.
Frustrated, Letuka approached the Ministry of Justice.
He met the principal secretary who told him that the state could not pay the M59 000 because it was his responsibility as the appellant.
“What makes me angry is that I know that I have chances of success in the appeal but I was forced to go to prison despite that I filed an application for appeal on the very day that I was convicted,” Letuka says.
“Even after I have completed my sentence the government still does all it can to stop me from carrying on with my appeal. This is unfair.”
He consulted lawyer Haae Phoofolo for help.
Phoofolo told the Sunday Express that he approached the Constitutional Court for redress because the state has a duty to provide Letuka with the court records so that he can appeal.
“It is the state that decided to use sophisticated technology to record court proceedings and so it should pay for transcription and give us the records that we will use to lodge our appeal,” Phoofolo said.
“How is it anybody’s problem that the state is unable to undo what it did?”
“First of all, it was unjust that this man was denied bail pending appeal until he completed his jail sentence and now the state is frustrating his right to appeal.”
The Constitutional Court is yet to decide on the hearing date.
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