SADC protection for Mokhosi: LCD

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Mohalenyane Phakela

FUGITIVE Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) deputy leader Tšeliso Mokhosi made a surprise appearance at the High Court this week amid revelations that the party had successfully petitioned the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to protect him from possible arrest by the police.

Mr Mokhosi, who fled the country a fortnight ago, appeared at the High Court on Monday for his remand hearing in the case in which he and six others including former Commissioner of Police, Molahlehi Letsoepa stand accused of murdering Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng in 2016.

The former defence minister arrived in the company of members of the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL).

Speaking to the Lesotho Times soon after the court proceedings, the LCD deputy spokesperson, Apesi Ratšele, said they requested SADC to escort Mr Mokhosi to court to ensure that he was not “troubled” by the police who had “previously tortured him”.

Mr Ratšele further said that Mr Mokhosi and LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing will remain hiding in South Africa until their security concerns are addressed.

Mr Ratšele said this against the background of Mr Mokhosi’s recent flight from the country after being summoned for questioning by the police over his alleged role in the killing of former army commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao in 2015.

This is the second time Mr Mokhosi has fled after originally skipping the country in September 2017, claiming that the police had tortured him and wanted him dead.

The former defence minister’s second escape came barely two weeks after he and Mr Metsing returned to the country from more than a year in self-imposed exile in South Africa. The LCD claimed that Mr Metsing had also gone into hiding and its two top leaders would no longer participate in the ongoing reforms.

The duo returned on 25 November 2018 after SADC brokered a deal between the government and the opposition for their return.

In terms of that 26 October 2018 agreement, Messrs Mokhosi, Metsing and other opposition leaders would not be prosecuted for any crimes until after the current reforms process aimed at implementing a number of governance changes recommended by SADC in 2016.

Clause 10 of that government-opposition deal granting the opposition leaders immunity from prosecution for the duration of the reforms was subsequently struck down by the Constitutional Court which ruled that it violated the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s prosecutorial discretion.

The case had been brought to court by the family of the slain Lt-Gen Mahao and others whose relatives were killed by soldiers during the tenure of the previous coalition government.

Messrs Metsing and Mokhosi were deputy prime minister and defence minister respectively, during the seven parties’ coalition that was headed by Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Pakalitha Mosisili until its ouster in the 3 June 2017 snap elections.

During Dr Mosisili’s tenure in 2015, Lt-Gen Mahao was assassinated by fellow soldiers who claimed he had resisted arrest for allegedly being the ringleader of a mutiny against the command of the then army chief Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli. The claim was dismissed as nonsensical by a commission appointed by SADC to probe the killing.

And in the latest turn of events, Mr Mokhosi fled the country on 6 December after being summoned to “clarify some issues surrounding the murder of Lt-Gen Mahao.”

Last week on 12 December, the LCD held a press conference to announce that Mr Mokhosi and Mr Metsing had fled the country due to security concerns.

But this week on Monday, Mr Mokhosi briefly appeared at the High Court for his remand appearance in the case in which he and six others including former Commissioner of Police, Molahlehi Letsoepa stand accused of murdering Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng in 2016.

Mr Mokhosi appeared alongside his co-accused, police officers, Senior Superintendent Thabo Tšukulu, Superintendent Mothibeli Mofolo, Inspector Mabitle Matona and Police Constable Haleokoe Taasoane who are all currently on suspension from the police service.

The former defence minister arrived in the company of members of the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL).

The police details who were present at the High Court did not attempt to arrest Mr Mokhosi or ask him to accompany them for questioning. Soon after the court proceedings, the deputy leader of the LCD headed back to South Africa.

High Court judge Justice Molefi Makara even joked that he was surprised that Mr Mokhosi had turned up as he had seen newspaper headlines stating that the latter was a fugitive who had fled the country.

“Is Mokhosi MP (Member of Parliament) present,” Justice Makara asked, adding, “I saw newspaper posters saying you had fled the country therefore I’m surprised to see you”. Justice Makara postponed the case to 22 January 2019 after being advised by the Crown Counsel, Advocate ‘Naki Nku, that the foreign judges who will preside over the case will be in the country by that date.

Speaking to the Lesotho Times after the court proceedings, the LCD’s Mr Ratšele said the party had requested SADC to escort Mr Mokhosi to court to ensure that he was not “troubled” by the police.

“Mr Mokhosi fled a few days ago because he was afraid that the police would torture him again while they called him to report to them. We asked for the SADC escort because he was not sure whether or not the police would want to torture him. SADC has become our refugee since we cannot rely on our police for protection.

“After appearing in court, Mr Mokhosi returned to South Africa where he will stay for a while. Mr Metsing is also hiding in South Africa as he was afforded inadequate security. The two shall not return until their security issues are resolved.

“We hope that their security concerns would be addressed before the second edition of the reforms process early next year. If they are not addressed, the LCD will not have representation in the national reforms,” Mr Ratšele said.

The SAPMIL officials refused to comment on the LCD claims that they had agreed to escort Mr Mokhosi whenever he appeared in court.

Scores of LCD supporters clad in party regalia thronged the court in a show of solidarity with Mr Mokhosi.

However, Police Spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said they did not arrest Mr Mokhosi because even after he fled they still made arrangements and met him in South Africa and got the information they wanted from him.

“We do not know anything about the SADC escort for the police had no plans to arrest Ntate Mokhosi.

“Ntate Mokhosi was called in (for questioning a fortnight ago) because the prosecution in the murder case of Ntate Mahao wanted to interview him. When he (Mr Mokhosi) decided not to come but run, arrangements were made to meet him where he was in South Africa and the interview was done. The prosecution got what they needed from him,” Supt Mopeli said.

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