Caswell TlaliMASERU— A group of women petitioned Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on Thursday calling for the purging of Court of Appeal judges who they accused of failing to implement the death penalty in Lesotho.
A local lawyer who spoke to the Sunday Express yesterday said the controversial proposal will not see the light of day as the premier did not have powers to influence the running of the courts.
The women, led by Lineo Khalema and ’Masetota Leshota, said Thabane should ensure that Court of Appeal judges, who are mostly foreign nationals, are quickly replaced by Basotho.
“Death sentence is inherent in our law but foreign judges in our Court of Appeal do not use it against criminals who rape, murder and sometimes murder for ritual purposes,” said Khalema reading a petition to Thabane.
“It is high time that we have Basotho judges in the Court of Appeal,” she said.
The women marched from ’Manthabiseng Convention Centre to the Moshoeshoe I Statue to deliver their message to Thabane. They said time had come to put a stop to the murder and sexual assault of women, girls and the elderly.
The women told Thabane that courts of law should demonstrate in their judgments that violence, especially domestic and gender-based violence, is unacceptable. They said they are disappointed that High Court judgments seeking to deter people from serious crimes such as murder and rape were being overturned in the Court of Appeal with convicted criminals getting away with lighter sentences.
Thabane, perhaps wary not to be seen to be interfering in the running of the judiciary, refused to be drawn into the controversy only promising the women that he would discuss the issue with the Chief Justice. Thabane instead urged the nation to turn to God when they are challenged by“good-for-nothing men whose extraordinary desire for women drives them crazy”.
“You should not forget to pray to God to help us end this madness,” Thabane said.
Gender Minister Chief Thesele ’Maseribane who had accompanied Thabane to the Moshoeshoe I Statue to meet the women, said there would be a proposal in cabinet for the appointment of a Mosotho judge in the High Court who would deal specifically with cases of gender-based violence and violence against children.
’Maseribane said the government has built a centre in Maseru West Industrial Area where abused women can take refuge while their abusive husbands and male relatives are dealt with by the law.
He however raised concerns about the safety of women who seek protection at the centre.
“We will discuss this with the Commissioner of Police and find out how the centre and roads leading to it can be guarded,” ’Maseribane said.
A local lawyer, Tekane Maqakachane, yesterday dismissed the women’s call as misguided.
Maqakachane, a defence lawyer who also teaches law at the National University of Lesotho, told the Sunday Express in an interview that a prime minister does not have legal powers to interfere with the running of the courts.
Maqakachane said by law, a judge is not appointed by a prime minister and therefore he does not have a say in their removal. “The law is clear that a judge is removed from office only if they are misbehaving, unable to perform their duties or they are mentally ill,” Maqakachane said.
The reasons raised by the women did not warrant the removal of the judges.
“The Honourable judges put in mind extenuating circumstances before they can reach any conclusion in any case that may result in sending a guilty person to the gallows,” he said.
“The law says where there are extenuating circumstances the guilty person shall not be sentenced to death.
“In most cases there are many extenuating circumstances and the judges are bound by the law and by justice to decide otherwise.”