. . . lawyers and critics cry foul
AND NEO SENOKO
MASERU – ’Maesaiah Thabane’s swift release from remand prison and the quantum of the bail she posted has sparked speculation she received preferential treatment because of her lofty position.
Public Eye can report some lawyers and commentators believe the way the ’Maesaiah debacle has been handled was emblematic of deep-seated problems afflicting the judiciary and other key constitutional institutions.
That ’Maesaiah was released around 19:00 hours has raised eyebrows among some lawyers who argue their clients were not accorded similar treatment.
Former defence minister Tseliso Mokhosi was kept in prison overnight despite being granted bail after correctional services officers turned his lawyer, Qhalehang Letsika, away because he had missed the 3pm deadline.
Mokhosi, who faces a murder charge for his alleged involvement in the Mokalekale Khetheng killing.
Also, former army commander Tlali Kamoli and several soldiers accused of causing mayhem in 2014 and the death of a police officer have been languishing in remand prison for over two years.
Kamoli has been denied bail on grounds that he is a flight risk and is facing egregious charges.
Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) spokesman Superintendent Neo Mopeli yesterday dismissed the favouritism allegation saying detainees can be released after hours from remand prison.
’Maesaiah was released from detention on Wednesday evening after spending hardly five hours in prison cells.
Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase ordered her release.
Magistrate Nthabiseng Moopisa indicted her on murder and attempted murder charges and advised her to approach the High Court for bail.
Later in the evening, ’Maesaiah was out of the correctional service after posting a granted M1000 bail with conditions that she attends remand hearings every month, that she does not interfere with crown witnesses and that she stands trial.
Her release prompted debate on different media platforms with the public questioning the rationale behind her release saying it was clear she was a flight risk, since she had disappeared for about two before she turned herself in.
Justice Mahase did not give reasons for her order, but asked the parties to appear before her today for arguments.
Mopeli said while ’Maesaiah was released after hours, LCS was bound by the court order to release her.
He said once a court has ordered the release of a suspect, they have to comply with it hence ’Maesaiah’s release from detention.
“As an institution, we deal mostly with court orders; when an order has been served on us, we have no other option but to comply with it,” he said.
Mopeli confirmed that ’Maesaiah was released in the evening.
Asked to confirm reports the institution is locked down at 3 pm, Mopeli said this was merely procedural but it did not bar officers from releasing inmates.
Lawyers dismissed Mopeli’s response and said LCS officers deny them entry to the facility after hours. The lawyers said they have been turned away despite having court orders.
Prominent lawyer, Qhalehang Letsika said when he obtained an order for the release of Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) deputy leader Mokhosi, officers refused to release him and he had to spend an extra night in jail.
Letsika said he was told to come back the following day because he had arrived at the facility after hours. He said he had missed closing time by just a few minutes.
Advocate Napo Mafaesa, on the other hand, said it depends on the officers on duty.
He said suspects are sometimes released at night while others are made to wait until the following.
He said by practice, once bail is granted, a suspect need not sleep in detention because the correctional service can be sued for it.
Mafaesa said lawyers should alert correctional staff about clients seeking bail so that it becomes easier to release them when an order has been granted.
Political commentator Arthur Majara last night attributed the controversy swirling around the ’Maesaiah saga to a weak judicial system.
“The whole issue surrounding ’Maesaiah be it legal or political exhibits state capture of constitutional organs, especially the judicial tripartite component of a democratic dispensation as intimated in our constitution. The way the issues have been handled from the death of former wife of Thabane up to the revelation of ’Maesaiah is short changing the independence of the police and the courts.
“The Holomo drama and the Justice Mahase saga in the ABC affairs speaks mountains of corrupted state entities. It is not to be a surprise that treatment of ’Maesaiah in the murder investigation shows the calling of forces to tow the line of their master Thabang. So comparison of Mokhosi, Kamoli, etc, in their treatment in the same circumstances would be a waste of time because politics play a major role that judicial fairness in which the ruling party is pulling the strings of despotic governance,” he said.
Meanwhile, recently appointed press officer in the Prime Minister’s Office Relebohile Moyeye is in police custody for allegedly helping ’Maesaiah to flee the country in January 10, police have confirmed.
The First Lady fled the country to escape arrest after she was linked to the killing of Prime Minister Thabane’s estranged wife Lipolelo Thabane in 2017.
Lipolelo Thabane was killed two days before the Prime Minister’s inauguration after his party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC) had won majority seats during the 3 June general elections.
Moyeye, who is a former radio presenter, is also alleged to have unlawfully used a government vehicle to help the First Lady flee.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Paseka Mokete confirmed in an interview with Public Eye yesterday that Moyeye is indeed in custody.
“Yes he is in police custody for allegedly helping Prime Minister’s wife to flee and also for unlawfully using a government vehicle,” Mokete revealed in an interview with Public Eye.
According to the law, the DCP said Moyeye will remain in custody for 48 hours and is expected to appear in court today (Friday). If the 48-hour mark comes and pass, police will have to apply for further detention.
On Wednesday, DCP Mokete confirmed that police are investigating some people who might have helped First Lady to escape last month and those that sponsored her stay in the neighbouring South Africa.
He stated on the same day that, among others, police are looking for senior government official, Chinese businessmen, as well as some ministers for allegedly assisting the First Lady to duck police keen to question her.
The explanation could simply suggest that Moyeye is just but the first suspect as police continue with their investigations into the matter.
Moyeye is not a stranger in the media industry in Lesotho, having served as a radio presenter in one of the most popular local radio stations Harvest FM. He also served the government of Lesotho as a Public Relations Officer (PRO) at the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Recently he had just been appointed to the position of the press officer in the Prime Minister’s Office.