Lawyers rally behind arrested colleague
Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights have condemned the recent arrest of Attorney Khotso Nthontho and attack on his home the very day he was taken into custody for allegedly lying under oath.
Attorney Nthontho was arrested on 12 February in Maseru and charged with perjury he allegedly committed in the Court of Appeal in November last year while representing three members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) accused of mutiny.
However, the lawyer was released the same day he was arrested following an urgent High Court application by his wife, ‘Mathato, and 10 colleagues.
The prominent Maseru lawyer is among a team of legal practitioners representing 23 LDF members accused of plotting to remove the army command alongside the now-deceased former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao. Lieutenant-General Mahao was shot dead on 25 June 2015 by the military just outside his Mokema home. The army says he was killed while resisting arrest for the alleged mutiny, which his family has dismissed as untrue.
Meanwhile, Attorney Nthontho on Tuesday (16 February) appeared before the Maseru Magistrate’s Court where he was formally charged for alleged perjury. He is expected back in court on 26 February.
But in a statement released on Thursday (18 Feb) and endorsed by their president, King’s Counsel (KC) Zwelakhe Mda, Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights, 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”.
Advocate Kumalo is also representing some of the detained soldiers, whose trial has since started before a Court Martial.
“As Lawyers for Human Rights, we see this as a dangerous trend worth condemning. We do this not in defence of any of our own against arrest based on reasonable suspicion of trespassing the law, for that would be in compliance with the imperatives of the rule of law, but to call upon the police and or the army to discharge their mandate strictly within the confines of the law,” the lawyers noted in their statement.
The statement is addressed to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and copied to Parliament Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai, Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara, Opposition Leader Thomas Thabane, Attorney General Tšokolo Makhethe, Director of Public Prosecutions Leaba Thetsane, LDF Commander Tlali Kamoli and Police Commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa.
The lawyers further explained why they decided to speak out against Attorney Nthontho’s arrest.
“Preceding his arrest was some utterance by a Colonel of the Lesotho Defence Force to clients that the army was intending to arrest their Attorney; a couple of days later Attorney Nthontho was arrested and detained on a charge of defeating the ends of justice; his colleagues applied for his release in the High Court and an order was granted for him to be released; and later on the same night of his release his house was attacked and partly destroyed,” the lawyers noted.
“The above facts speak to the low and despicable level to which some elements and handlers within our society have sunk in their relentless pursuit of a project to undermine the rule of law in the misguided belief that the savior of democracy and justice is in the bullet and not the ballot. It stands to reason therefore that it is not an abstruse proportion that the Colonel and his operatives who threatened the arrest of Attorney Nthontho were the ones who attacked the lawyer’s house, taking umbrage at his release from police custody.”
The lawyers further say in discharging their “constitutional obligations”, they are “not in the business of bringing joy or happiness to those who undermine the Constitution or persecute members of society”.
The statement continues: “Serving without fear, favour or prejudice and being respecters of no man but the law, puts lawyers on the inevitable collision course with the enemies of democracy, rule of law and justice. This collision is part of the age-old struggle against tyranny, arrogance of powers and all manner of evil characteristic of haters of national stability, peace and progress.”
The lawyers are making a clarion call to the nation to join hands in “nipping in the bud, the emergent seeds of fascism”.
Silence and inaction, they warn, are not options “because experience teaches the lesson that if one keeps silent and does nothing when a neighbour is in danger, he or she will be the next to be devoured by the monster of fascism”.
Advocate Mda (KC) yesterday confirmed endorsing the statement, while there was no immediate comment from the recipients.