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Mutiny trial suspended


Billy Ntaote

Court Martial proceedings against 23 soldiers accused of mutiny were suspended on Thursday until 2 May 2016 after the suspects’ lawyers appealed against rulings made by the jury “on isolated dates beginning early December 2015”.

The court is presided over by Acting Major-General Mojalefa Letsoela, and is trying Brigadier Mareka, Brigadier Poqa Motoa, Colonel Stemere, Colonel Kolisang, Major Makhetha, Captain Chaka, Second-Lieutenant Mohasi, Sergeant Mokhobo, Sergeant Semakale, Sergeant Lekhabunyane, Corporal Mokhoro, Corporal Letsilane, Corporal Lipoto, Corporal Manaka, Corporal Mohatlane, Corporal Chele, Corporal Motseko, Lance-Corporal Jobo, Lance-Corporal Molefi, Lance-Corporal Makhooane, Private Pama, Private Bolofo and Private Ralitlemo for allegedly plotting to topple the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) command.

The soldiers were arrested between May and June 2015, and 18 of them are detained at Maseru Maximum Security Prison. The other five soldiers were once detained in the same facility but later released and placed under ‘open arrest’ on different dates after successfully challenging their incarceration in the High Court and Court of Appeal.

The military says the alleged plot was masterminded by slain former army commander Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao. Lt-Gen Mahao was shot dead in Mokema on 25 June 2015 by soldiers who had come to arrest him for the alleged mutiny.

A notice filed before the Court Martial Appeal Court indicates that the soldiers “having been dissatisfied with the rulings of the trial court (court martial) on isolated dates beginning early December 2015, hereby note an appeal against the said trial court’s rulings”.

The soldiers explain in their notice: “The trial court erred and or misdirected itself by dismissing all the applications for recusal that had been lodged and moved before it. The trial court erred and or misdirected itself by dismissing the application for referral to the High Court for determination of ‘pre-trial prejudice’.

“The trial court erred and or misdirected itself by dismissing the special plea raised to the effect that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter”.

Speaking on behalf of the defence team, Advocate Monaheng Rasekoai informed the Court Martial on Wednesday that after received instructions to lodge the appeal“we had to wait for two hours for our file to be opened”.

He further told the court that the clerks were “intimidated and very apprehensive” which he said was indicative of the sensitive nature of the case.

“We beg leave to serve the prosecution with a notice of appeal, and to let the Court Martial know that we have filed an appeal before the Court Martial Appeal Court,” Advocate Rasekoai said.

However, Judge Advocate Hancke asked Advocate Rasekoai the “net effect” of the application and what the law said about lodging an appeal in the middle of proceedings.

In response, Advocate Rasekoai said the defence was seeking a stay of proceedings until the appeal is finalised.

The prosecution then joined in the argument, with Advocate Roland Suhr asking the steps to be taken to expedite the appeal and further reiterating concern about the effect of the appeal on the proceedings.

“The accused would be remaining in custody as this case awaits the finalisation of the appeal.

“The Court Martial Appeal Court is meant for appealing against a conviction and there is no indication as to what the defence counsel are seeking; no indication that the Court Martial Appeal Court should entertain interim appeals. These grounds for appeal don’t follow the intention of the rules,” Advocate Suhr noted.

Advocate Suhr also said it was important that the appeal was expedited.

“We cannot have such a lengthy halt of proceedings of this Court Martial that can even go to three months,” said Advocate Suhr.

But Advocate Rasekoai responded by asking: “What’s the haste? We are trying to mould the wheel of justice here. The law says we can file record to appeal within three months. The Crown is saying we can only appeal against a conviction in line with Section 139. I don’t mean to blow my trumpet; I have appeared before a Court Martial a number of times. And an appeal I lodged stayed proceedings. Section 139 is not exhaustive.”

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