TEN murder-accused soldiers who have been languishing in remand prison for more than a year will have to wait until 11 December to know when they will stand trial.
This comes after High Court judge Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi on Monday announced the postponement of the case.
The 10 soldiers are Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali, Private Nthatakane Motanyane, Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, Pitso Ramoepana, Liphapang Sefako and Nemase Faso.
They allegedly strangled Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane at Setibing in rural Maseru on 16 May 2017 and dumped them in the Mohale Dam.
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 last year.
The 10 suspects remain in custody where they are still awaiting trial.
The prolonged delay has been caused by the non-arrival of foreign judges who are expected to preside over this and several other cases involving past and serving members of the security agencies which are deemed to be politically sensitive cases.
And on Monday Justice Monaphathi announced the latest postponement. This was after the crown counsel, Advocate Mashapha Letsie told the court that he had been informed by the Acting High Court Registrar Pontšo Phafoli that the foreign judges “would arrive soon” and that the matter be postponed to 11 December.
Justice Monaphathi also expressed concern over the prolonged delay in the case.
“To you gentlemen (the accused), I trust you are in good health,” Justice Monaphathi said, adding, “The agreement between crown and your lawyers is that the matter be postponed to 11 December this year”.
“It concerns me that there has been such a delay but then this is as far as I can go. Let 11 December be the date for the mention of the case.”
Justice Monaphathi also said he was disappointed that the prosecution had not furnished the defence lawyers with witnesses’ statements on the case.
“The crown should have furnished the defence with the statements of the witnesses a long time ago. We have had similar problems in the past when a judge was brought all the way from Uganda at great expenses and there were no witness statements.
“My hope is that there will not be the same problem therefore the crown should furnish the defence with such statements by 30 November 2018,” Justice Monaphathi said.
Prior to the judge’s announcement of the 11 December date, Advocate Qhalehang Letsika, who is one of the lawyers representing the soldiers, told the High Court that they were frustrated by the frequent postponements of the case.
Adv Letsika said he did not understand why the “simple case of murder” could not just be tried by local judges.
“We are dealing with a simple case of murder and we fail to understand why it is being given special treatment by being allocated to foreign judges,” Adv Letsika said.
“At every (court) appearance we are told that judges are being brought from all over the world and the situation has become frustrating for the accused in that they remain in custody while the matter keeps on being postponed.”
In reply, the crown counsel, Adv Letsie told the court that he had been told that the foreign judges “would arrive soon” and asked that the case be postponed to 11 December.
“I have been told by the registrar (Ms Phafoli) that the foreign judges will arrive soon and she told me to ask the court to postpone the matter to 11 December,” Adv Letsie said.
Last week Ms Phafoli told this publication that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) had completed the process of recruiting the foreign judges and all that was left was to finalise the exact dates when they would arrive and start work.
“The JSC has completed the process of recruiting foreign judges who will preside over the selected cases but it is not yet certain as to when they will be in the country.
“We are yet to discuss with them (foreign judges) as to when they will be prepared to start work so I am not in a position to say their exact dates of arrival. I also cannot disclose their countries of origin or the exact number of those coming because that is subject to change as the current number that we asked for may increase,” Ms Phafoli said.
The government previously said that the foreign judges will be in Lesotho by September this year in time to hear cases including those of murder-accused former army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli; Lesotho Congress for Democracy’s (LCD) Deputy Leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi and the former Police Commissioner, Molahlehi Letsoepa.
But four weeks into November, there is still no sign of the foreign judges.
The delay in the arrival of the judges has already caused the postponement of the murder trial of former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who has been languishing in remand prison for more than a year.
Lt-Gen Kamoli will have to wait until 18 December to know when he will stand trial.
He faces a murder charge in connection with the killing of Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko at the Police Headquarters in Maseru during the attempted coup of 30 August 2014.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa.
He 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.
In this case Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Heqoa Malefane and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.
The delay in the arrival of the foreign judges has also caused the postponement of the murder trial of Lesotho Congress for Democracy’s (LCD) Deputy Leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi and the former Police Commissioner, Molahlehi Letsoepa which had been scheduled for 4 September this year.
Messrs Mokhosi, Letsoepa and four senior police officers stand accused of murdering Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng two years ago.
In June this year, High Court judge Justice Thamsanqa Nomngcongo set 4 to 7 September 2018 as the trial dates for the murder case.