Soldiers to remain in prison
THE fate of three Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members fighting to be released from Maseru Maximum Security Prison will only be known on 30 September, High Court judge, Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane ruled on Thursday.
Lance Corporal Aupa Mohasi, Corporal Molato Mohatlane and Lance Corporal Toma Nehemia Jobo filed an urgent application before the High Court on 23 July this year seeking an order for their immediate release from the high-security prison.
The soldiers allege their continued detention by the LDF, which started on 14 May this year after they were arrested on allegations of plotting a mutiny, is unlawful.
The detained soldiers’ lawyer, Attorney Khotso Nthontho, on Thursday urged Justice Hlajoane to review and set aside a directive issued on 10 July 2015 by LDF Chief of Staff, Major General Lineo Poopa.
The directive stipulates that the three soldiers should remain in prison until the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission appointed last month, has finalised its inquiry into the alleged mutiny.
According to LDF regulations, members of the military should not be imprisoned for more than 42 days without being put before a Court Martial.
But in his directive, Major General Poopa said the continued incarceration was the result of SADC and not the LDF.
He noted: “Being aware that you have been under close arrest for more than 42 consecutive days (save A1) pending trial by a military court; And having been duly advised by the Director of Legal Services that you shall not be released from custody on the grounds inter alia that investigations are being finalised, the Court Martial structure is yet to be set-up, and the SADC Extraordinary Summit of the Double Troika on 3 July 2015 took a decision that the Kingdom of Lesotho should put on hold Court Martial processes to allow for the independent SADC Commission of Inquiry…I now therefore uphold the advice and direct that you shall not be released from custody pending trial by the Court Martial.”
The A1 that Major General Poopa was referring to was Brigadier Thoso Mareka, who is now at home but under open arrest. The brigadier was released from prison due to ill-health.
However, Attorney Nthontho told the court his clients had already spent a long time in prison and would remain in detention even further because of the extension of the Commission’s probe period from 60 to 90 days.
“The applicants have already spent 70 days in detention. There is a possibility that they are going to spend even more time without being tried considering the contents of the directive.
“Among others, the directive says SADC has instructed that Court Martial proceedings should be put on hold until the Commission has finalised its job,” he said.
Meanwhile, a lawyer representing the army, Advocate Letsie Moshoeshoe, was overruled when presenting documents which showed that the Court Martial had already been assembled.
This was after Attorney Nthontho had objected, saying: “My Lady, we all know that one stands and falls by his papers filed in court.
“My learned friend cannot just hand in papers from the bar. He should have included them in his answering papers.”
Justice Hlajoane ruled that Advocate Moshoeshoe should not produce the “Convening Order” when addressing the court because it was not part of the papers already filed in court.
LDF Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, LDF Director of Military Intelligence Lieutenant Colonel Tumo Lekhooa, Defence Minister Ts?eliso Mokhosi and Attorney General Ts?okolo Makhethe are cited as first to fourth respondents, respectively in the case.