THE treason trial of politicians, Mothetjoa Metsing and Selibe Mochoboroane, failed to take off in the High Court on Monday and has been deferred again to next week. This after the Constitutional Court failed to deliver judgement in the duo’s application to stop the trial from proceeding. The Consitutional Court must first deliver judgment in a separate case in which the two politicians argue that they cannot be tried of treason because of an October 2018 government-opposition agreement.
Clause 10 of that agreement between then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government and the opposition purportedly cancelled all trials of Messrs Metsing, Mochoboroane and other opposition figures until after the implementation of the multi-sector reforms recommended by SADC in 2016. The reforms have been dragging and several deadlines for their completion have been missed.
But Mr Metsing, who leads the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Mr Mochoboroane, leader of the Movement for Economic Change (MEC), which joined the current governing coalition at its inception in May this year insist that the agreement must be respected despite it being earlier outlawed by the Constitutional Court. They had since filed another application asking the court to rescind its earlier judgment. Mr Mochoboroane is also Development Planning minister.
The 2018 agreement cleared the way for Mr Metsing’s November 2018 return from exile to participate in the multi-sector reforms process. However, the clause was invalidated in November 2018 by the Constitutional Court bench comprising of Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase, Justices Molefi Makara and Semapo Peete (now retired).
This after the late Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng’s father, Thabo Khetheng, petitioned the court to declare it unconstitutional saying self-serving agreements between politicians could not outstrip the constitution.
PC Khetheng was allegedly murdered by fellow police officers on 26 March 2016 at the height of infractions by security agencies.
Mr Khetheng’s successful 2018 court challenge cleared the way for Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane to be charged with treason in connection with the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of Mr Thabane.
The duo is supposed to be charged alongside former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and an army officer, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane.
But their trial was put on hold on 25 February 2020 after Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane petitioned the Constitutional Court to rescind its November 2018 judgement on the grounds that they were not joined in the application when clause 10 was nullified.
Their application was again heard by Justices Mahase, Peete and Makara from February until 11 August 2020 when they reserved judgement.
At the time, Justice Makara, who had also written the initial November 2018 judgement, said he would need at least three weeks to write the judgement in the latest application because the judges were overwhelmed with work. The three weeks have long passed but there is still no judgement.
The delay in handing down the judgement has thus caused the latest postponement.
When the treason trial was due to start on Monday, Advocate Christopher Lephuthing, informed the presiding Judge Onkemetse Tshosa that there was still a pending Constitutional Court judgement in relation to Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane’s application to stop the state from trying them.
Adv Lephuthing represented the state when it opposed Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane’s application.
“We had expected that the judgement in that constitutional matter would be delivered during the first week of September but that has not been the case,” Adv Lephuthing said.
“We are from His Lordship (Justice Makara)’s chambers and he had not arrived as yet. Last week when I checked I was told that the judgement was still being written. We are still hopeful that we will get it in order for these proceedings to continue.”
Justice Tshosa then ordered Adv Lephuthing to follow up on the pending Constitutional Court judgement to enable the treason trial to start on Monday 12 October 2020.
“Since we do not know when the judgement is coming, Adv Lephuthing should follow up the matter so we know the way forward. This (treason) matter has been set-down for hearing on 12 October 2020,” Justice Tshosa ordered.
But his decision did not go down well with Adv Lepeli Molapo who is representing Lt-Gen Kamoli and Captain Nyakane.
The duo has been in remand prison since 2017 awaiting trial for various other crimes including the June 2015 murder of former army commander Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao.
Adv Molapo asked that his clients either be released on bail or that the court tries them separately from Messrs Metsing and Mochoboroane.
But Justice Tshosa insisted on postponing the treason trial to next Monday.