Editor’s shooting trial to begin next week

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Mohalenyane Phakela

THE trial of four soldiers accused of the July 2016 attempted murder of former Lesotho Times editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, has been postponed to 7 March 2022.

The soldiers had been brought to court from remand prison in the hope that the case would begin. However, Maseru Senior Resident Magistrate, Peter Murenzi, postponed the case to enable Mr Mutungamiri to travel from his native, Zimbabwe, to testify in the matter.

In an interview yesterday, the lead prosecutor, Rethabile Setlojoane, said the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, had engaged the Lesotho Times publisher and CEO, Basildon Peta, to assist with Mr Mutungamiri’s travel arrangements to Lesotho to enable him to testify.

“I met with the Magistrate (Murenzi) yesterday (Tuesday) to inform him that we could not proceed due to the fact that Mr Mutungamiri was not able to make it to Lesotho on Tuesday when we were supposed to proceed with his evidence,” Adv Setlojoane said.

“However, the DPP has informed me that she had been in talks with the Lesotho Times boss (Peta) to assist in bringing Mr Mutungamiri to Lesotho. I was told that he (Peta) is organising for Mr Mutungamiri to be here by Monday. The matter has therefore been postponed to Monday.

“I have also engaged the (High Court and Court of Appeal) registrar (‘Mathato Sekoai) to assist us to hold a virtual session to hear Mr Mutungamiri’s testimony. If this works out, the case may then be heard before next week.”

Adv Setlojoane said they had lined up several witnesses to testify but it was “prudent” to start with Mr Mutungamiri as he was the complainant.

“The case can still proceed without Mr Mutungamiri but it is prudent to start with him as the complainant to enable the smooth flow of evidence.”

Mr Mutungamiri suffered near-fatal gunshot wounds in a July 2016 attack by the army officers.

Initially five soldiers, namely, Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Colonel Khutlang Mochesane, Nyatso Tšoeunyane, Mochesane Phusumane and Maribe Nathane were charged with the attempted murder of Mr Mutungamiri.

Phusumane was however, turned into a state witness in September 2019 and released from prison.

According to the pre-trial conference minutes presented in court in November 2021, confessions from all the accused soldiers, except for Brigadier Mphaki, will be presented as evidence during the trial. Mr Mutungamiri’s medical report will also be presented along with the police reports from the crime scene among others.

“It is alleged that on or about 9 July 2016 at or near Ha-Thamae in Maseru, the said accused did each, or all of them, acting in concert or common purpose, unlawfully and intentionally, did an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence to wit: by firing gunshots at one Lloyd Mutungamiri and inflicting upon the said Lloyd, serious injuries as such committed  an offence of attempted murder.

“The following witnesses will be called on behalf of the crown: Lloyd Mutungamiri, (his wife) Tsitsi Mutungamiri, Retired Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and Mochesane Phusumane.

“The Crown Counsel will make the opening address introducing his case and the defence counsel will also make opening addresses introducing their defences,” the pre-trial conference minutes state.

The conclusion of the trial will help achieve long-delayed justice for Mr Mutungamiri and the Lesotho Times. The former editor’s July 2016 shooting followed a difficult period for this 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 Kamoli, in line with a Southern African Development Community (SADC) recommendation for his removal from post.

Mr Peta was also summoned for questioning and interrogated by a group of about 15 heavily armed mostly military police officials. He was subsequently charged with criminal defamation arising from a complaint laid against the newspaper by Lt-Gen Kamoli over the satirical column, Scrutator. Mr Peta fought the charges and won a landmark victory when the Constitutional Court outlawed criminal defamation in 2018.

Two days after Mr Peta initially appeared in court for bail, Mr Mutungamiri was shot. One bullet broke his right-hand and another shattered his left jaw, requiring him to undergo specialised facial surgery to remove the bullet lodged on his left ear. He also sustained severe eye injuries after broken window glasses entered and cut his eyes, among other injuries.

The police later said their investigations had revealed that the attempted assassination of Mr Mutungamiri was an operation entirely authorised by the army then under Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command.

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