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Zimbabwe judges take former Lesotho Army Commander head on

by Mandla Ndlovu
16 Aug 2019 at 16:10hrs | Views
Zimbabwean judges Charles Hungwe, Moses Chinhengo and Tafuma Mtshiya are part of a group of foreign judges lending their expertise to the Lesotho government in its quest to try double-murder accused former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, former defence minister, Tšeliso Mokhosi and other former and serving members of the security forces who stand accused of crimes.

The judges are shuttling between Harare and Maseru and Justice Hungwe has been sworn into the High Court where he is already in the process of conducting a pre-trial conference ahead of the full trials of Lieutenant-General Kamoli. In one of the murder cases, Lt-Gen Kamoli is accused with 10 other soldiers of murdering former army commander Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao in June 2015.

Lesotho's Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mokhele Moletsane has said that  that the decision to engage the Zimbabwean and other foreign judges was taken to protect local judges from possible victimisation and backlash from trying the "politically sensitive cases".

Mr Moletsane said while the local judges were competent enough to try the cases, the government and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) still felt it necessary to engage foreign judges because the cases in question were politically sensitive. He further said that the verdicts of the foreign judges were less likely to be viewed as biased.

"It has never been about the incompetency of local judges as the government believes they are capable enough to preside over the cases.

"However, the government and SADC agreed that due to the nature of the cases which are said to be politically sensitive, it would be best to source foreign judges because local judges are at risk of being victimised for the verdicts they would give for the cases," Mr Moletsane said.

Lt-Gen Kamoli retired from the army on 1 December 2016 under immense pressure from Lesotho's regional and international development partners who demanded an end to the impunity and human rights abuses that occurred during his tenure at the helm of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).

He was subsequently arrested in September 2017 on murder and attempted murder charges which include the June 2015 assassination of former army commander, Lt-Gen Mahao.

At the time of his forced retirement, Lt-Gen Kamoli is said to have received a multi-million maloti golden handshake. Lieutenant-General Kamoli also faces a murder charge stemming from the 30 August 2014 killing of Police Sub-Inspector, Mokheseng Ramahloko.

Sub-Inspector Ramahloko was shot and killed by soldiers during the attempted coup of 30 August 2014 at the police headquarters in Maseru. The soldiers who allegedly acted on the instructions of the then army commander, Lieutenant-General Kamoli, also raided several other police stations in Maseru and seized an assortment of weapons.

Lieutenant-General Kamoli also faces 14 counts of attempted murder in connection with the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha-Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.

He is charged alongside Major Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Heqoa Malefane and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.

Major Ramoepane faces a separate murder charge in connection with the 5 September 2017 assassination of army commander Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo. Lieutenant-General Motšomotšo succeeded Lieutenant-General Kamoli after the latter was forced to retire on 1 December 2016.

Mr Mokhosi has been charged with the murder of Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng. He is charged along with former police commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa and 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.

Messrs Mokhosi and Letsoepa are in exile while the four officers are detained at the Maseru Maximum Security Prison.

There are also 10 soldiers who stand accused of murdering Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane at Setibing, Maseru on 16 May 2017 and dumping their bodies in the Mohale Dam.

The 10 soldiers are Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali, Private Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, Pitso Ramoepana, Liphapang Sefako and Nemase Faso.

The soldiers allegedly kidnapped and murdered the three men after the trio had just been released from police custody where they were detained in connection with a shooting incident that occurred at the Maseru border gate on 13 May 2017.

Justices Chinhengo and Mtshiya recently handled Lieutenant-General Kamoli, Mr Mokhosi and the 14 soldiers' appeal against the recruitment of foreign judges to try them. They handled the case in Lesotho's highest court, the Court of Appeal.

The other 14 applicants are Major Pitso Ramoepane, Thabo Tšukulu, Mothibeli Mofolo, Mabitle Matona, Rapele Mphaki, Pitso Ramoepana, Lekhooa Moepi, Mahlele Moeletsi, Mahlomola Makhoali, Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Liphapang Sefako, Nemase Faso, Tieho Tikiso and Litekanyo Nyakane.

They wanted the recruitment of the foreign judges on the grounds that it was unconstitutional because the government allegedly played a leading role in choosing judges it felt would convict them and hand them harsh sentences. They argued that the JSC should have been left to do its own recruitment independently of government.

However, the Court of Appeal that included the Zimbabwean judges dismissed the application, saying the government acted within the constitution in seeking foreign judges' assistance.

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Source - Byo24News