Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi says mutiny suspect, Lance-Corporal Toma Nehemia Jobo, remains in Maseru Maximum Security Prison “by choice”.
The Court of Appeal on 6 November 2015 ordered the soldier’s immediate release and declared his continued detention illegal.
However, he remains in prison alongside 21 other LDF members arrested between May and June this year for allegedly plotting to overthrow the military command. The soldiers are currently appearing before a Court Martial but the Appeal Court ruled Lance-Corp Jobo should attend the hearing from home.
Last week, Lance-Corp Jobo’s lawyer, Attorney Khotso Nthontho, told the Lesotho Times he did not know why his client was still in prison despite the court order which indicated he should be placed under open arrest.
But Minister Mokhosi yesterday told the Lesotho Times Lance-Corp Jobo had refused to leave the prison because he was not happy with the conditions of his open arrest. According to the terms of his open arrest, Lance-Corp Jobo was to be allowed to go about his normal daily business, but would not leave the country. The officer was also supposed to surrender his passport to the LDF and report to Ha Ratjomose barracks every morning. He was also expected to report to the military each time he left his house.
Minister Mokhosi also accused Attorney Nthontho of not “being there” for his client, leading to Lance-Corp Jobo’s decision not to leave prison.
As “proof” of Attorney Nthontho’s alleged failure to represent his client, the minister showed the Lesotho Times a letter he said was written by Lance-Corp Jobo rejecting the court order.
The letter, dated 10 November 2015, reads: “I, Lance-Corporal Jobo, having been given a release from the Court of Appeal of Lesotho as told by LDF officers, and further asked that I should surrender my travel documents and my personal weapon to MP (military police), I ask that I be given an opportunity to deliver the same to my legal advisor (lawyer) before my release is effected…the reason being that I don’t have the contents of that Court of Appeal decision as is being said by the LDF officers.
“So I need my lawyer to have consent in this regard before my release from Maseru Maximum Institution so that he can explain the contents of that Court of Appeal decision.”
According to Minister Mokhosi, the LDF was prepared to release Lance-Corp Jobo but only under conditions of his open arrest.
“The bottom line is the army did not defy the Court of Appeal ruling,” the minister said. “The court order was clear that Lance-Corporal Jobo should be placed under open arrest. This means he was supposed to surrender his passport and personal firearm to the Military Police, report himself to the Ha Ratjomose MP office every morning to show that he had not fled the country and report to the Provost Martial (officer in charge of the Military Police) every time he leaves his house.
“However, he told the officers who presented the judgement to him that he was not comfortable and did not trust its details. He said he wanted to consult his legal representative first, but the lawyer was not there.
“He then decided to stay in Maseru Maximum Security Prison while he consults his lawyer.
“LDF authorities asked Lance-Corporal Jobo to write his decision down so that it can be proven that he stayed in prison of his own accord.”
Mr Mokhosi insisted the LDF could not release Lance-Corp Jobo “just like that” for fear he would flee the country.
According to Mr Mokhosi, Lance-Corp Jobo’s stay in prison had become “a huge challenge” and the army was consulting its lawyers on the issue.
The Minister added: “Since the court order was issued, his lawyer has been unavailable and he has done nothing to make sure Lance-Corporal Jobo is released.
“Lance-Corporal Jobo was even offered a phone to call him, but he could not reach him. It is shocking that Nthontho told the Lesotho Times last week that he was surprised and doesn’t know why the army defied the Court of Appeal order.
“This man is not only representing Lance-Corp Jobo but even the other soldiers who are still in detention. He visits the other soldiers but not Lance-Corporal Jobo.”
Contacted for comment yesterday, Attorney Nthontho said: “It is nonsensical for Ntate Mokhosi to say I have not done anything about Lance-Corporal Jobo’s release.
“Let me tell you, I am not even aware of the letter that is alleged to have been written by my client.
“The army did not release my client and I don’t understand what I was expected to do after that because they simply don’t comply with orders of the law. I am not the one who arrested Lance-Corporal Jobo and my visits could not release him if the army refuse to do so.
“Then again, it must be clear that Lance-Corporal Jobo is not above the law and it is not his choice whether he stays in prison or not. It doesn’t make sense for Mr Mokhosi to suggest that it was Jobo’s decision to stay in prison despite the ruling of a court of law.”
“There is nowhere in this world where a prisoner can decide to stay in prison when there is a court order saying otherwise. And for the record, I have been visiting Jobo at Maseru Maximum Prison; I was even there yesterday.”