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Lawyers, army feud escalates

 

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

THE Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR) has hit back at the army and accused Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli of “abrogating” the title of “The Right Honourable” in an escalating row between the two organisations.

The row began on 18 February 2016, when the LLHR issued a statement condemning the arrest of Attorney Khotso Nthontho on 12 February 2016 and attack on his home the same day he was taken into custody for allegedly lying under oath. Attorney Nthontho had been charged with perjury allegedly committed in the Court of Appeal in November last year while representing three members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) accused of mutiny.

He is among a team of legal practitioners representing 23 LDF members accused of mutiny before a Court Martial. In the statement, signed by their president, King’s Counsel (KC) Zwelakhe Mda, the LLHR said they saw Attorney Nthontho’s arrest and attack on his home as a “dangerous trend worth condemning”.

The lawyers also noted the “intimidation” of another lawyer, Advocate ’Mole Kumalo, late last year “by faceless characters at his residence, putting his life and those of his family in danger”.

However, in a sharply-worded letter, the army described the LLHR’s missive as “one of the most disturbing statements made against those in authority; a matter that needs not be left unattended”.

Dated 23 February 2016, and signed by the army commander under the title “RT. HON. LT. GEN. KT KAMOLI”, the letter also accuses LLHR of drawing unqualified conclusions without having presented necessary premises.

“It is disturbing ground that an Attorney (Nthontho) has been intimidated, if indeed he has been, and punished ‘for gallantly championing the rights of soldiers’.

“We reiterate the problem with the writer to be fallacious in his address; there are no facts in support of the assertion that the Attorney is being intimidated, a matter that is untrue because the writer has repeatedly failed to provide the facts in support thereof,” part of the letter reads.

The lawyers responded on 10 March 2016 with an equally stinging letter which accuses Lt-Gen Kamoli of unconstitutionally giving himself the title of “The Right Honourable”.

Titled “Rejoinder: Condemnation of intimidation of and attacks on lawyers”, part of the letter reads: “We must state at the forefront our dismay that you have arrogated the title: “The Right Honourable” to yourself and also having the audacity to copy the letter with this venerable title to the Right Honourable the Prime Minister.

“We do not know whether or not it is with his concurrence that you share the title. Be that as it may, we are not aware of any precedent the whole world where a soldier however high in rank is referred to as the Right Honourable.

“For the record, we do not recognise nor accept your use of that venerable title as it is by convention constitutionally assigned to the Prime Minister. And your use of the same may give the misleading impression that the Lesotho Defence Force is analogous to a state within a state; which is completely untenable in terms of our legislative framework.”

The lawyers said Lt-Gen Kamoli’s title constituted an “unnecessary embarrassment” to Lesotho, adding that it needed to be “remedied sooner than later”.

“Otherwise, LLHR may be compelled to launch a constitutional motion before the Constitutional Court for an appropriate relief,” reads the letter.

“Our statement is thorough condemnation of unwarranted attacks on lawyers, it matters not whether it is one or two or hundred lawyers who have been attacked. What matters is lawyers being threatened when doing their job of defending clients without fear, favour or prejudice. And as is our calling to resist tyranny and fascism, we dare not flinch in that regard.

“It is of pivotal significance that, as lawyers we were taught to respect the law, not be afraid of authority and to exact accountability from those who exercise public power.

“Thus we are respecters of no man but the law. If you feel lawyers have been given license to insult those in authority under the pretext of promoting and protecting human rights, then clearly there is a strong case for the submission that you are not fit to lead an institution whose function includes protecting democracy and the rule of law.”

The lawyers also accuse the army of “torturing their own and harassing civilians in various parts of the country”.

“One need not remind you of the harassment of scores of innocent residents of Maputsoe during the 2013 festive season, and the torture meted out to detainees in military detention recorded in numerous judicial reports – one can go on and on to infinity,” reads the correspondence.

“Clearly our statement has disturbed you greatly as you state yourself and promise that the matter ‘need not be left unattended.’ However you attend to the ‘matter’ going forward, make sure you do so in consonance with the law; that is, you act in the right and honourable manner. Justice Will Triumph!”

The letter is copied to, among others, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Speaker of the National Assembly Ntlhoi Motsamai, Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara, Leader of Opposition Thomas Thabane, Attorney-General Tšokolo Makhethe, Director of Public Prosecutions Leaba Thetsane and Police Commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa.

Advocate Mda (KC) confirmed signing the letter yesterday, while efforts to get a comment from the LDF were unsuccessful yesterday.

 

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