A LAWYER representing murder-accused army officer, Major Pitso Ramoepana, has accused Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) of violating his rights by denying him food and medical treatment.
Major Ramoepana’s lawyer, Advocate Kabelo Letuka, made the accusations against the LCS on Monday when Major Ramoepana appeared before Botswana judge, Justice Kabelo Lebotse, on charges of murdering three Maseru civilians in 2017.
Justice Lebotse postponed the murder trial to 24 February 2020. He also ordered the LCS to allow Major Ramoepana to receive medical assistance to enable him to recover and be fit enough to stand trial when the trial eventually gets underway in 2020.
Major Ramoepana appeared ill when he appeared alongside his co-accused to murder face charges on Monday.
He is accused alongside Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali and Privates Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, 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 2017.
Theirs is one of several high profile criminal trials involving serving and former members of the security agencies for which the government has recruited foreign judges like Justice Lebotse.
But before their trial could kick off on Monday, Adv Letuka petitioned Justice Lebotse to order the LCS to ensure that Major Ramoepana was allowed to receive medical treatment for an undisclosed illness.
Adv Letuka accused the LCS officials of whisking his client back to prison before he had been formally discharged from Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital where he was receiving treatment on Sunday.
“There is a court order by this court which directed the Commissioner of the LCS and the Officer Commanding Maseru Central Correctional Institution to ensure that Mr Ramoepana be taken to Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital on 1 November 2019 to be attended by a doctor,” Adv Letuka told the judge.
“But Mr Ramoepana is before the court today and not having had food and medication since yesterday when he was collected from hospital by LCS officers without being discharged by the doctor. He had not received his medication and food prescription which the doctor said he would give him before discharging him.
“We pray this court to order the Commissioner of the LCS and the Officer Commanding Maseru Central Correctional Institution to take Mr Ramoepana to see a doctor at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital as the LCS said it will only follow court orders not lawyers’ instructions.”
The prosecutor, South African Shaun Abrahams attempted to shoot down Adv Letuka’s allegations. He presented Major Ramoepana’s booklet to the court in a bid to prove that he had actually been discharged from hospital contrary to Adv Letuka’s assertion.
“There was no forceful removal of Mr Ramoepana from the hospital as it was the hospital which called the LCS to send its officers to collect Mr Ramoepana. I have a medical record in my hand which proves that he was admitted on 1 November 2019 and discharged on 3 November 2019.
“It is clear from the discharge summary that no blame can be put on the LCS. If Mr Ramoepana has not eaten or that his body is not responding well to medication, we do not have an objection to him going back to the hospital. We want him to stand trial in a healthy state. What we do not want is for this court to be misdirected,” Adv Abrahams argued.
Justice Lebotse appeared puzzled by the idea of a food prescription, saying it was “bizarre that the doctor said he (Ramoepana) should not eat until he was prescribed meals”.
He however ordered that Major Ramoepana be afforded medical services and postponed the case to next year.
“The LCS Commissioner is directed to ensure that Ntate Ramoepana continues to access medical services and treatment when required.
“The matter is postponed for trial to 24 to 28 February 2020 and 23 to 27 March 2020,” Justice Lebotse ordered.