. . . as mutiny accused soldiers languish in custody
TWO members of a court martial trying three Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members for mutiny in connection with the assassination of army chief Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo have recused themselves from the case.
Brigadier Khomo Mohobo, who was the court martial’s judge advocate, and prosecutor, Captain Leholi Motikoe, yesterday recused themselves after the defence lawyers objected to their swearing-in last Friday for different reasons.
The defence lawyers – namely King’s Counsel (KC) Karabo Mohau, KC Motiea Teele and Advocate Letuka Molati – objected to Brigadier Mohobo’s swearing-in on the basis that he was likely to be biased as he was one of the speakers at the memorial service for the slain Lt-Gen Motšomotšo shortly before his burial.
In the case of Captain Motikoe, the defence lawyers argued that he could not be prosecutor because he had already made a statement in relation to the same case before the court martial. The defence averred that as a result of his statement, it was possible that Captain Motikoe could become a witness in a case he was supposed to prosecute.
He was replaced by Major Moseehle.
Six other senior army officers were sworn in last Friday to constitute a court martial for the trial of three army officers facing mutiny charges in relation to the 5 September 2017 assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.
The six are the Court Martial’s President Brigadier Mabote Phillip Sekoboto, Lieutenant Colonel ‘Mammohi Mofelehetsi, Lt-Col Motseki Kanetsi, Major Sera Lekoatsa, Major Tseko Nthakong and Major Madondolo Rakhoro.
They will preside over the mutiny case against three army officers – Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Boiketsiso Fonane and Captain Litekanyo Nyakane.
After the trial failed to kick off last Friday because of the defence lawyers’ objection to the swearing-in of Brigadier Mohobo, Captain Motikoe requested the postponement of the case to yesterday to give the prosecution time to prepare its response.
As he recused himself yesterday, Brigadier Mohobo chanted the famous legal slogan that: “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”
He conceded that the defence had raised “a reasonable objection”, adding that the selection of another judge advocate would be the prerogative of Defence and National Security Minister Sentje Lebona.
“The judge advocate finds that it is proper for him to recuse himself in the interest of justice,” Brigadier Mohobo said in the third person,
“It is my duty to advise the court to refer the matter back to the convening authority (Mr Lebona) to appoint another judge advocate and I so advise.”
The recusals are a blow to the mutiny-accused army officers because they will now have to wait in custody until a new judge advocate is appointed by the minister. Thereafter, a new date of hearing would be set.
Dispersing the court, Court Martial President, Brigadier Sekoboto said: “The court takes the advice by the judge advocate and I will refer the matter back to the convening authority.
“It now means you will be served with new dates of hearing after the convening authority has decided on the matter.”
In addition to the court martial, Major Ramoepane and Captain Fonane are also facing charges in the High Court of murdering Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.
Major Ramoepane faces a further 14 counts of attempted murder along with former LDF commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli, in relation to the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesiah Thabane, one ‘Mamoshoeshoe Moletsane, and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana.
Captain Nyakane is also charged in the High Court with the murder of Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko at Police Headquarters on 30 August 2014 during an attempted coup by the army.
Major Ramoepane, Captain Fonane and Captain Nyakane are currently in custody at Maseru Maximum Security Prison after being remanded by the Magistrate’s Court.