MASERU – Treason accused Mothetjoa Metsing and Selibe Mochoboroane this Wednesday snubbed their court appearance. Presiding judge, Justice Onkemetse Tshosa, however continued with the high profile trial. The judge has set March 30 as the pretrial conference date and April 1, 7 and 9 as hearing dates.
There seems to be no end to this legal battle in which Metsing and Mochoboroane, leaders of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Movement for Economic Change (MEC) respectively fight against standing trial to answer treason charges.
The two politicians are in desperate attempts to avoid prosecution for their involvement in an August 2014 alleged coup.
They are to be joined in a case together with retired Lesotho Defence Force Commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and four other soldiers who are already in detention. The soldiers have been charged with murdering police Sub Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko on the days of the alleged putsch – and it is expected that treason charges will also be preferred against them.
Metsing and Mochoboroane maintain that their prosecution will be unreasonable. Mochoboroane is a cabinet minister in the current ruling coalition government.
Having failed in numerous attempts to convince the courts to order Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, to suspend and defer their indictment to a period when the country has completed the ongoing national reforms, they have launched yet another application and asked the High Court to review and set their indictment aside for being inconsistent with the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.
Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane is the latest judge to be seized with their application. He has declined jurisdiction on the matter. His refusal to rule on the matter followed an earlier Constitutional Court dismissal of their initial applications to have a 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between government and opposition parties declared unconstitutional.
Metsing argues the MoU protects him against prosecution until after the ongoing reforms. The MoU is to the effect that Metsing and similarly placed persons with him shall not be subjected to prosecution during the ongoing national reforms. The MoU was nullified by the court but Metsing and Mochoboroane maintain that the DPP is bound by the said agreement.
They were backed the SADC Facilitation to Lesotho which said no politician should be charged during the reforms but a warrant for their arrest was issued late last year compelling them to approach the courts. This time they bemoan infringement of their constitutional rights to a fair trial within a reasonable and adequate time and facilities for preparation of their defences.
“The applicants’ joinder in a criminal trial that has been pending serves the crown’s convenience in disregard of the applicants’ constitutional rights to a fair trial within a reasonable time and adequate time…”
They also argue that “the DPP’s decision to have them joined in a trial pending since 2018 is unlawful for want of compliance with the statutory requirement of first holding a preparatory examination before committal for trial in this court.”
Further, they argue that stay of their trial was necessary pending the court’s review of the DPP’s decision to charge them with a political offence which was allegedly committed way back in 2014 against an administration which has long gone.
Justice Sakoane refused to grant the application saying the judge hearing their criminal case is best suited to deal with all the issues they are raising. It appears that Chief Justice Sakoane’s decision has not put the matter to rest as the pair is not prepared to face the trial judge, Justice Tshosa.
They claim that the High Court (Sakoane CJ) erred and misdirected itself by not determining the case and referring it to a trial judge. They are asking the Court of Appeal to reverse his decision. The appeal will add to their already existing against the Concourt decision the 2018 MoU is unconstitutional.
Strangely, the pair has not filed court records in respect of the two appeals noted so that the court is able to determine the cases. Prosecution has since written to the defence lawyers requesting the urgent attention of the matter.
Advocate Christopher Lephuthing, who represents the Crown in the matter, says failure to prepare the court may result in the appeals being postponed to the October session of the court. He says the prosecution is prepared to prepare the record should the defence fail to.
“We represent the Crown in the High Court and we represent it before the Court of Appeal in opposition of the two appeals set above. We have liased with the Court of Appeal officials today and they indicated that you have not filed records of proceedings in respect of the two matters scheduled for hearing in the upcoming session of the Court of Appeal,” he argues.
He further states, “We formally record this for your urgent attention in view of the fact that there has been a waste of judicial time caused to other trials which had been occasioned by clear implications of either clause 1 or review of indictment.
There is a great deal of public interest in the two cases and they cannot be postponed to October session simply because records of proceedings have not been filed according to the rules.”