Three soldiers apply for bail

Three soldiers apply for bail

MASERU – THREE army officers, including a brigadier, who are being charged with strangling three civilians and throwing them in Mohale Dam, are applying for bail. If their bail application is rejected, the three say they will cause the subpoena of “the members of military command to be cross examined vigorously” for determination of their suitability for bail.

The soldiers say they are being wrongly charged and “are victims of circumstances and the unrest in the LDF”.
“People who have to answer for wrongdoings are roaming the LDF and the country freely,” they told the court in their papers.
Their lawyer Advocate Letuka Molati says this aspect shall be dealt with in greater detail when cross-examining the members of the command of the LDF during trial.

Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Mahlehle Moeletsi and Liphapang Sefako approached the High Court last Friday with their petition.
The other suspects, Mahlomola Makhoali, Nthatakane Motanyane, Lekhooa Moepi, Lance Corporal Machai and Private Faso have not applied for bail.
The crown says these men kidnapped Lekhoele Noko from Leribe, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane both from Mohale’s Hoek in mid-May and took them to Setibing Military Base where they strangled them to death. They threw their bodies in Mohale Dam.

The three victims had just been released from police custody without any charge after they were suspected of taking part in a fight between soldiers and a famo music gang they belonged to. The police had released them because they found that they had done nothing wrong that could warrant any charge.

It is believed that the soldiers kidnapped them soon after their release. They were never seen again.
A team of South African police divers were in the country last week trying to search for the drowned bodies. The search was suspended this week with the South Africans saying they needed to go back home to pick up better equipment.

The petitioners told the High Court in their bail application, through their lawyer Advocate Letuka Molati that they did not participate in the killing of the three men. “The presumption of innocence still operates in favour of your petitioners who cooperated with the law enforcement agencies when they were warned to report to the police and when they were remanded into custody,” Molati said in the court papers.
“The interests of justice will not be defeated if your petitioners were to be released on bail for the reason that they will not abscond. They will stand trial.”

Molati argued the three have strong roots in Lesotho and that there are no facts that may persuade them to abscond.
“Your petitioners were duly informed that they were to report at police headquarters to be charged with murder. They submitted themselves thereat though they were at different places where, if they feared standing trial, they could have easily escaped,” he said.

“They did not escape. In particular (Sefako) was in Mokhotlong and he drove himself from Mokhotlong to Maseru in order to be remanded on a charge of murder which he was informed in advance that he was going to be charged.”
Molati said they were charged spuriously in order to stop the prospects of Mphaki from continuing being in the command of the army and prospectively being its commander.

If there are any acts of wrongdoing involving the military, they are not responsible, Molati argued.
Molati said the petitioners are the main breadwinners in their families and their children are still young and need their fathers’ care and support.
He reasons that they deserve bail because on average it takes four years before a murder trial starts in Lesotho.
He also says the High Court has a shortage of at least 10 judges.

“In the recent times, murder trials which have not yet started get postponed by a period of more than one to two years due to backlog and shortage of judges,” Molati said in papers filed of court. He also said the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which has to try them, is overwhelmed with criminal trials such that it is practically impossible to commence and complete the trial they are facing within a year.
“The date of trial is not yet set,” Molati said.

“The office of the DPP does not have an idea as to when the trial date shall be after at least the year 2019,” he said.
He also said a letter published by the LDF command “highly stigmatised your petitioners especially (Mphaki) who is high in the command hierarchy”.
The letter with which the LDF distanced itself from the arrested officers “insinuates and has achieved, at least in the court of public opinion that your petitioners have committed murder which is not the case”.

Molati said they are not able to clear their names on that specific matter which prejudices them as they may come to trial with wrong perceptions against them. Their prayers are that they be released on bail amount fixed at M1 000 each, report at police headquarters on the day of remand between 6am and 6pm and that they should not interfere with crown witnesses and pledge to stand trial and attend remands.

Majara Molupe

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