THE opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) has accused the government of seeking to disrupt the ongoing reforms by forging ahead with the treason and murder trial of its leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, and his Movement for Economic Change (MEC) counterpart, Selibe Mochoboroane.
Addressing a press conference in Maseru yesterday, LCD deputy leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi, said by going ahead with the trial, the government was violating the 2018 SADC-backed government-opposition agreement not to proceed with all “politically motivated trials” until after the implementation of the multi-sector reforms recommended by SADC in 2016 as part of efforts to achieve lasting peace and stability in Lesotho.
Mr Mokhosi said this in the aftermath of last week’s High Court judgement which threw out Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane’s application to stop the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, from joining them to the treason and murder case alongside former army commander, Tlali Kamoli and others.
Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane will now be formally charged on 6 December 2021 alongside Lieutenant General Kamoli, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane and Lance Corporals Motloheloa Ntsane and Leutsoa Motsieloa.
This after Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane on Thursday dismissed their appeal against the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane’s decision to join them to the trial. The duo had argued that they could not be joined to an already existing trial.
Initially, Lt-Gen Kamoli had been charged with murder alongside Captain Nyakane and Lance Corporals Motloheloa Ntsane and Leutsoa Motsieloa.
DPP Motinyane subsequently amended the charge sheet in February 2020 to include treason, attempted murder and aggravated assault charges among others. She also added Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane to the list of the accused persons.
The two politicians then filed numerous applications to stop the DPP from charging them including the latest appeal which was heard by Justice Sakoane before he reserved judgement on 27 September 2021.
On Thursday, Justice Sakoane ruled that the two politicians should appear before him on 6 December 2021 alongside other accused persons in order to be joined to the trial. He said their application stood to be dismissed because “it did not pass the legal muster”.
“The applicants were served with the indictment and notice of trial which had been scheduled to proceed on 24 November 2020,” Justice Sakoane said.
“They brought this application on an urgent basis on the same date to stay the decision of the DPP to join them in the indictment pending the finalisation of the application. The reasons for challenging the decision of the DPP do not pass the legal muster. The decision to join the applicants for summary trial in CRI/T/0001/2018 stands. The applicants must appear in court on 6 December 2021 so that they can be arraigned. The application is dismissed,” Justice Sakoane ruled. Incidentally, the Chief Justice is the presiding judge in the treason and murder trial. He replaced Botswana’s Judge Onkemetse Tshosa in July this year allegedly out of frustration over the suspects’ numerous, frivolous court applications which delayed their trials.
The treason charges are in connection with the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
Mr Metsing, who leads the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), was deputy prime minister at the time of the attempted coup while Movement for Economic Change (MEC) leader and current Development Planning Minister Mochoboroane was Communications Minister and LCD secretary general.
Lt-Gen Kamoli had been fired by Mr Thabane from his post as army commander on 29 August 2014 before orchestrating the attempted coup allegedly with the support of Messrs Metsing, Mochoboroane, Captain Nyakane and Lance Corporals Ntsane and Motsieloa. Messrs Thabane and Metsing had fallen out with the latter alleging he was not being consulted on key decisions.
The murder case is in connection with the murder of Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko which occurred during the attempted coup night when soldiers under the command of Lt-Gen Kamoli raided police stations to disarm police officials said to have been loyal to Mr Thabane.
The joining of Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane to the trial is highly significant in that it will be the first time for a sitting cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister to be charged with capital crimes like treason and murder.
The High Court’s decision to join them to the trial is also a major statement by the country’s judiciary that the laws of the land take precedence over SADC decisions and agreements as long as they are not domesticated through an act of parliament.
Mr Metsing, in particular, will be cursing his luck as he had fled the country in 2017 citing an alleged plot to assassinate him by the previous government. He only returned the following year on the back of a SADC-brokered government-opposition agreement that he would not be prosecuted for any crimes at least until after the country had implemented the multi-sector reforms which were recommended by SADC as part of efforts to achieve lasting peace and stability in the Kingdom.
Clause 10 of that 2018 government-opposition agreement stated that “Mr Metsing and similarly placed persons in exile will not be subjected to any pending criminal proceedings during the dialogue and reforms process”.
Incidentally, it was signed between the opposition and the previous government which was led by Mr Thabane- the victim of the attempted coup during his first stint as premier.
The head of the SADC facilitation team, retired former South African Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke, subsequently wrote to Mr Thabane last year, demanding that the government stops the judiciary from prosecuting Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane.
But in two separate judgements in 2018 and 2020, the Constitutional Court struck down clause 10 and ordered the two politicians to stand trial.
Last year, one of the judges, Molefi Makara, even said that SADC could not dictate terms to Lesotho’s judiciary as it was an independent institution.
Justice Makara said SADC could say “whatever it wished” but Lesotho’s judges would pass their judgements on the basis of the law and not the regional body’s directives.
Even though the decision to charge Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane was made by the DPP and okayed by the High Court, Mr Mokhosi and his party are somehow convinced that the governing coalition, anchored by the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC), is behind the move.
Mr Mokhosi accused the government of reneging on its commitment not to prosecute Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane at least until the reforms had been implemented.
“You will remember that our leader (Metsing) and the MEC leader (Mochoboroane) challenged the decision to prosecute them when Mr Thabane was still prime minister in 2018. This challenge was however, defeated last week (in the High Court) on 18 November 2021.
“But SADC had already agreed with the government and the opposition parties that politically motivated cases such as this one should be suspended until after the reforms.
“In that agreement, it was stated that anyone hindering the reforms processes will be dealt with by SADC but the government of Lesotho has decided to ignore this agreement by continuing with these cases. By defying the agreement, the government is restricting us from participating in the reforms process. This will disrupt the reforms process,” Mr Mokhosi said.
He said they had since written to SADC over the issue and they would only decide on whether or not to continue participating in the reforms process when they had received a response from the regional body.
“We have already written to SADC requesting them to intervene. We have even communicated them through telephone calls. We hope they will deal with the matter in the right manner because they are the ones who initiated the reforms process,” Mr Mokhosi said.
Meanwhile, the MEC says although it does not believe that its leader has done anything wrong, it will however, abide by the courts’ decision.
“We find it hard to accept that our leader is connected to this matter but we understand that when the courts have spoken, we have no choice but to abide by the law. And so, he will appear in court on 6 December 2021 in line with the High Court judgement. We are fully behind him and we support him all the way. His court case will not disrupt the party and we will continue to execute our mandate until next year’s elections,” MEC deputy leader, Tšepang Tšita Mosena, said this week.