THE trial of soldiers accused of the July 2016 attempted murder of Lesotho Times editor Lloyd Mutungamiri failed to take off at the Maseru Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.
This after defence lawyers opposed the crown’s decision to turn one of the five accused persons into a state witness.
Advocates Letuka Molati and Kabelo Letuka argued that one of the accused soldiers could not be turned into a state witness because he already knew the defence strategy of the other accused soldiers.
The accused soldiers are, Mochesane Phusumane, Khutlang Mochesane, Rapele Mphaki, Nyatso Tšoeunyane and Maribe Nathane.
Phusumane was however, turned into a state witness in September 2019 and released from prison.
But the defence lawyers argue that Mr Phusumane should be a state witness as he is privy to all the defence outlines since he was consulted by the lawyers long with other four accused persons.
“Phusumane is likely to compromise the defence of other accused persons therefore turning him into a state witness is wrong,” the lawyers said, adding, “We intend to oppose the state’s decision to turn him into a witness”.
Senior Resident Magistrate, Peter Murenzi, who is presiding over the attempted murder case, then set 30 March 2020 as the date for hearing the state and lawyers’ arguments over the decision to turn Phusumane into a state witness.
He set 13 to 16 July 2020 as the dates for the actual trial. Mr Mutungamiri was shot and injured by soldiers on 15 July 2016.
Mr Mutungamiri’s shooting followed a rough week for the publication during which then Lesotho Times journalist Keiso Mohloboli was also summoned for interrogation by police and military officials in connection with a story about the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
The story was about the negotiations for an exit package for the then army commander, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, in line with a Southern African Development Community (SADC) recommendation for his removal from post.
The Lesotho Times’ publisher and chief executive officer, Basildon Peta, was also charged with criminal defamation arising from a complaint laid against the newspaper by Lt-Gen Kamoli over the satirical column, Scrutator.
Two days after Mr Peta appeared in court, Mr Mutungamiri was shot. One bullet broke two of his right-hand fingers and another shattered his lower jaw, requiring him to undergo specialised dental surgery to manage the jaw and to remove a bullet that lodged behind his left ear. He also sustained eye injuries after broken window glasses entered and cut his eyes, among other facial injuries.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) said that its investigations revealed that the attempted assassination of Mr Mutungamiri was an operation authorised by the army.