MASERU Senior Resident Magistrate, Peter Murenzi, is disappointed by the slow pace of the attempted murder trial of the army officers who allegedly shot and injured Lesotho Times editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri in July 2016.
The trial has been postponed on numerous occasions for various reasons including the suspects’ demand for the recusal of magistrates who had initially been assigned to the case.
The latest obstacle to the resumption of the trial was Wednesday’s absence of the defence counsels, Advocates Letuka Molati and Kabelo Letuka. It is not clear why they were absent as they did not notify the court.
Their absence riled Magistrate Murenzi who postponed the case to 17 October 2019.
Only crown counsel, Advocate Rethabile Setlojoane, was present while the four accused soldiers stood in the dock without any legal representation.
Mr Mutungamiri suffered near-fatal gunshot wounds in a July 2016 attack allegedly by the army officers.
Initially five soldiers, namely, Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Colonel Khutlang Mochesane, Nyatso Tšoeunyane, Mochesane Phusumane and Maribe Nathane.
Phusumane has since turned into a state witness and he was recently released from prison.
During the previous court appearance on 4 September 2019, Advocates Molati and Letuka, said they would be challenging the decision to turn Phusumane into a state witness in the High Court.
However, on Wednesday, Adv Setlojoane told Magistrate Murenzi that he was not aware of any application that had been made in the High Court on the Phusumane issue.
“On 4 September, the defence lawyers said they would file review application in the High Court challenging the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to turn one of the accused into the crown’s accomplice. Although counsels are not before court, I communicated with Adv Letuka and we agreed that 17 October be the date for set down of the hearing,” Adv Setlojoane said.
It was then that Magistrate Murenzi said he was frustrated by the defence lawyers’ failure to appear in court.
“I hope the defence counsels will be present on 17 October so that they can clarify their stance regarding the review application. We are all eager to see the matter to finality and on my side, I have lost patience,” Magistrate Murenzi said.
Mr Mutungamiri was shot and injured on 15 July 2016.
His shooting followed a rough week for the Lesotho Times during which journalist Keiso Mohloboli was also 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, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, in line with a Southern African Development Community (SADC) recommendation for his removal from post.
The Lesotho Times’ publisher and chief executive officer, Basildon Peta, was also charged with criminal defamation arising from a complaint laid against the newspaper by Lt-Gen Kamoli over the satirical column, Scrutator.
Two days after Mr Peta appeared in court, Mr Mutungamiri was shot. One bullet broke two of his right-hand fingers and another shattered his lower jaw, requiring him to undergo specialised dental surgery to manage the jaw and to remove a bullet that lodged behind his left ear. He also sustained eye injuries after broken window glasses entered and cut his eyes, among other facial injuries.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) said that its investigations revealed that the attempted assassination of Mr Mutungamiri was an operation authorised by the army.