TEN murder-accused soldiers who have been languishing in remand prison for more than a year will have to wait until 19 December to know when they will stand trial.
The soldiers learnt of the latest postponement of their much-postponed case when they appeared before High Court judge Justice Molefi Makara on Tuesday.
The 10 soldiers are Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali, Private Nthatakane Motanyane, Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, Pitso Ramoepana, 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 last year.
The 10 suspects remain in custody awaiting trial.
The prolonged delay has been caused by the non-arrival of foreign judges who are expected to preside over this and several other cases involving past and serving members of the security agencies which are deemed to be politically sensitive cases.
It had been expected that the trial would finally begin on 11 December when the 10 appeared before Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi on the 26th of November this year.
This was after the Crown Counsel, Advocate Mashapha Letsie told the court that he had been informed by the Acting High Court Registrar Pontšo Phafoli that the foreign judges “would arrive soon” and that the matter be postponed to 11 December.
But in a new turn of events on Tuesday, the case was gain postponed to 19 December after Adv Letsie told the presiding judge, Justice Makara that he had erred in telling the court that the foreign judges would be in the country by the 8th of December.
“Last time I was told the foreign judges would arrive on the eighth in order to hear the case today (11 December) but today I learned that I had misheard and the judges will be here on the 18th (of December).
“I ask the court to postpone the case to 19 December as I believe that is the date when we will know the way forward,” Adv Letsie said.
Justice Makara subsequently remanded the case to 19 December and this was after one of the defence lawyers, Adv Napo Mafaesa, expressed his frustration at the constant postponement of the case. Adv Mafaesa said he doubted that the foreign judges would have arrived by the 19th, adding that the frequent postponements of the case were unfair on the 10 soldiers who have been languishing in remand prison for more than a year.
“We have been told over and over again whenever we come to court that foreign judges are coming soon and we understand that there will be no foreign judges on 19 December because people will be going for holidays. So, we propose that the case be set for the next session next year.
“The accused, have for that matter, not been tried on time which is unfair to them. We are planning to file an application for their release between now and the next year date which the court may grant for the case,” Adv Mafaesa said.
Justice Makara replied by saying that it would “not be wise for the court to interfere with the plan of securing foreign judges for the impression is that they will be here on 18 December”.
“Even if they (foreign judges) may not hear the cases instantly they will map the way forward.
“Let us maintain the existing arrangements because if we do otherwise we may create unnecessary disturbances. There is no point in accusing each other on the delays. Whatever obstacles have caused the delays are not deliberate. The expectation is that things will go smoothly and that the trial will be over a reasonable time. The court will therefore not interfere with the proposed date and the case shall be postponed to 19 December this year for the way forward,” Justice Makara said.