LAWYERS representing former senior government officials and police officers accused of murdering Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng failed in their petition to have the suspects freed on the grounds that their prolonged incarceration without bail was illegal.
The deputy leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Tšeliso Mokhosi, and former police commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa stand accused of murdering PC Khetheng two years ago.
The duo is charged alongside four other police officers.
The other officers are Senior Superintendent Thabo Tšukulu, Superintendent Mothibeli Mofolo, Inspector Mabitle Matona and Police Constable Haleokoe Taasoane who are all currently on suspension from the police service.
In June this year, High Court judge Justice Thamsanqa Nomngcongo set 4 to 7 September 2018 as the trial dates for the murder case.
This was after the defence lawyers and the prosecution had submitted that they had been informed by the office of the Registrar and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that foreign judges would be available from September onwards to hear this and other cases involving members of the security agencies.
But the trial failed to kick-off on Tuesday 4 September as the presiding judge (s) had still not been allocated to the case.
While Mr Mokhosi is out on bail and Mr Letsoepa fled the country last year, the four other police officers are still detained in the Maseru Maximum Security Prison.
It was on the basis of their prolonged incarceration that their defence lawyers on Tuesday unsuccessfully sought to have them released by High Court Judge Justice Teboho Moiloa.
The defence lawyers, Advocate Karabo Mohau (KC) and Attorney Qhalehang Letsika expressed their dissatisfaction after the crown submitted that the murder trial had not yet been allocated a presiding judge.
The prosecutor, Counsel Advocate ‘Naki Nku, told the court that the case could not proceed as “it would seem that the matter is not yet allocated to somebody to preside over the case”.
Adv Nku told the court that she was told by the Registrar of the High Court that a judge would be appointed in three weeks’ time.
It was then that Adv Mohau KC representing Thabo Tšukulu submitted that his client had been in custody for too long after he was arrested more than a year ago 3 August 2017.
Adv Mohau pointed out that Tšukulu had applied for bail and it was denied on 19 October 2017 and his fate was the same as that of the other incarcerated police officers.
“Our submission is that prolonged incarceration of the accused persons clearly violates their rights as prescribed under Constitution of Lesotho,” Adv Mohau said.
He added that the Speedy Court Trial Act requires that suspects should be tried expeditiously within two or three months.
While conceding that there had been delays in ensuring justice in the matter, Adv Nku however, maintained that the suspects should be remanded in custody as releasing them on bail might put the safety of the witnesses in danger.
“I ask his lordship to give until 25 September this year to have the matter prosecuted,” Adv Nku pleaded.
Adv Mohau replied by arguing that the threat to witnesses was an issue that the court could competently deal with and it should not be used as a reason to justify the continued incarceration of the suspects.
“We call upon this court to use its discretion to release accused on bail,” the defence argued.
However, Justice Moiloa ruled that the case could not proceed. He remanded the quartet in custody and postponed the matter to 25 September, by which date it is expected that the case would have been allocated to a foreign judge.
Meanwhile, Mr Letsoepa remains at large after he skipped the country in August last year soon after he was sent on forced leave by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. Mr Letsoepa is believed to be in hiding in neighbouring South Africa.