THE much-delayed and eagerly-anticipated attempted murder trial of five soldiers arising from the shooting of the Lesotho Times Editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri has again been postponed to 27 and 29 May 2019.
The latest postponement is due to the illness of one of the suspects, Nyatso Tšoeunyane. On Tuesday, Advocate Karabo successfully petitioned Magistrate Peter Murenzi to postpone the case, citing Tšoeunyane’s poor health. However, Adv Mohau did not disclose the nature of Tšoeunyane’s illness.
Adv Mohau told the court that his client’s poor health had thus prevented the latter from consulting him to prepare for the trial.
The advocate said his client was supposed to have undergone medical operation in April this year but could not do so for reasons he did not disclose to the court.
“This (Tšoeunyane’s illness) is a problem for me because I have not been able to consult with my client given the nature of his illness,” Adv Mohau told the court.
“I therefore wish to apply to this court to postpone the case to another date and also direct the LCS to ensure that my client is afforded an opportunity to see a medical practitioner to establish the necessity of a medical operation and in if the doctor deems it necessary, he should be allowed to undergo the operation.”
Crown Counsel Advocate Rethabile Setlojoane did not object to the defendant’s application, saying he understood the predicament of Adv Mohau found himself in as he could not consult with his client.
On his part, Magistrate Murenzi said it while it was important for the trial to proceed, it would not be a fair if it were to proceed under those circumstances where one of the accused’s illness prevented him from consulting with his lawyer.
The magistrate said he had “personally witnessed the struggles of the accused due to his illness and understood how difficult it was for him to communicate”.
“In the interest of a fair trial, we have therefore agreed for this matter to be rescheduled to another date, 27 and 29 May 2019,” Magistrate Murenzi ruled.
The suspects will however, be brought to the court on 27 December 2018 for remand proceedings.
Mr Mutungamiri suffered near-fatal gunshot wounds in a July 2016 attack allegedly by the five army officers.
The other four soldiers are Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Colonel Khutlang Mochesane, Mahanyane Phusumane and Maribe Nathane.
Mr Mutungamiri’s shooting followed a rough week for the Lesotho Times during which 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.
It had been anticipated that the long-awaited trial would finally kick off on 15 March this year when the five suspects appeared before Magistrate Motanyane but on that day their lawyer, Advocate Kabelo Letuka, immediately informed the court that they intended to formally apply for the senior resident magistrate to recuse himself from the case.
One of the accused soldiers, Col Mochesane, on 23 April 2018, filed an application before the Magistrate’s Court seeking the recusal of Mr Motanyane on the grounds that the magistrate would not be impartial in adjudicating over the case.
Col Mochesane suggested in his affidavit that Mr Motanyane could not be relied on to be impartial in the trial because he (Col Mochesane) investigated a case in which Mr Motanyane clashed with another magistrate who had accused him of playing political songs that “irritated her”.
Col Mochesane said he learnt of the allegations against Mr Motanyane when he (Col Mochesane) was still attached to the Military Intelligence (MI) department of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
Mr Motanyane recused himself from the case on 22 June this year and the case is yet to be allocated to another magistrate.
International human rights body, Amnesty International, recently described the delay in trying the suspects in the attempted murder of Mr Mutungamiri as “an affront to press freedom” which can only serve to entrench the “culture of impunity” in the country.
““After two long years, Lloyd and his family deserve justice now. The Lesotho government’s delay in bringing Lloyd Mutungamiri’s attackers to justice, through a fair, independent and impartial trial, is an affront to press freedom.
“The trial of the military members suspected of trying to kill him (Mr Mutungamiri) should send a clear message that targeting journalists is not tolerated in Lesotho but there has still been no trial and a culture of impunity prevails,” Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa, Muleya Mwananyanda, said.