Soldiers’ inhuman detention prompt lawyers withdrawal

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By Itumeleng Koleile

Allegations of inhuman treatment suffered at the Maseru maximum security facility by soldiers and police officers facing a litany of charges that range from treason, murder to attempted murder have caused the withdrawal of their lawyers from their cases.

The soldiers and police officers claim the Lesotho Correctional Services personnel manning the prison have denied them nutritious food and only given “meagre pap and beans”.

These treason, murder, and attempted murder accused security forces members lawyers penned a damning statement claiming possible miscarriage of justice if their clients’ inhumane treatment is not addressed.

“Our clients are held in inhuman conditions especially those held at the maximum-security wing of the Maseru Central Correctional Institution; clients are crammed in cells that are overcrowded and they have to share mattresses.

“They are deliberately being malnutritioned by being fed meagre portions of porridge as breakfast and meagre pap and beans for the last meal of the day.

“Whenever we meet in court, they would complain to us that they are hungry as they did not have enough food before they come to court.

“Members of their families are allowed to send them food only once a week. It does not make sense that under the present hot weather conditions clients should only be allowed food from home once a week. Such food cannot remain fresh for seven days.

“We are speaking here of people who have not been convicted of any offense, some of whom are living with chronic ailments that require treatment through proper nourishment,” reads part of the letter penned by ten lawyers representing the accused.

The lawyers—King’s Counsel Zwelakhe Mda and Karabo Mohau, Attorney Qhalehang Letsika, Advocates Letuka Molati, Kao-Theoha, Ratau, Kao, Letuka, Mafaesa, and Tuke—have resolved to withdraw their services lest they legitimize unjust persecution of the accused members of security forces.

The statement is addressed to Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane, judges, Attorney General Haae Phoofolo and copied to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, Speaker of the National Assembly Sephiri Motanyane, Minister of Justice and Huma Rights Professor Nqosa Mahao, Leader of opposition Monyane Moleleki, Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Hlafang Motinyane, SADC, Foreign Mission in Lesotho, the Law Society of Lesotho, International Bar Association, Amnesty International, SADC Lawyers Association, Common Wealth Lawyers Association and All media Houses.

The lawyers’ statement said they will not be part of charade trials that they allege are meant to deny their clients fair trial.

The lawyers said they are willing to expose the state of incarceration of the cases deemed high profile.

The statement points that their clients have been subjected to sub-human conditions of incarceration for a long time and being denied basic human rights: adequate food fit for human consumption; adequate time to consult lawyers and prepare adequately for the capital offense charges.

The lawyers said they are hoping to achieve a number of things that include: to witness changes in the cause of complaints in relation to the inhumane conditions their clients at subjected to while in jail and to put it on record and for posterity to know how Lesotho as a country purports to respect fundamental human rights.

The lawyers allege there are deliberate misleading statements regarding the conditions under which their clients are held and tried.

The lawyers argue denying fundamental human rights is “an incubation for further instability and absence of peace in Lesotho and will go down in history as the worst denial of justice aided by the member states of SADC and financed by the European Community”.

Moreover, the lawyers said unless their grievances are addressed, they will not partake in the proceedings that are lacking in semblance of impartiality or intention to do justice.

The lawyers also alleged they are working on a vivid premeditated fate of their clients.

“We refuse to be made party to such a gross miscarriage of justice,” their statement reads.

The lawyers further said since their clients have been detained for more than three years, they feel compelled to issue a statement since trials have not taken off while they were only served with indictments this year.

The statement further reads that prosecution only frantically interviewed potential witnesses in June 2020, while simultaneously pretending it has all along been ready to proceed with trials.

In the statement, the lawyers said it is imperative to realize how unfairly they have been accused of delaying trials when in some instances they seek documents to help prepare for trial.

Not only are they unhappy about issuing of documents, but the lawyers also allege having been denied adequate time to consult their clients in jail.

“When we utilize the opportunity of the presence of our clients in court and consult thereat, we are interfered with by the correctional officers who insist on eavesdropping on communication with our clients,” the lawyers said in their statement.

The lawyers emphasized they are withdrawing their services because when they ask presiding judges in the cases of the security forces members, the judges normally evade dealing with such issues as they tell them such matters should be brought under the attention of the administrative authorities that are responsible for such.

The lawyers add their clients have been denied bail even though it was clear their cases were far from proceeding.

“While the fact that they never resisted arrest was never taken into consideration. People apprehended for similar charges have readily been granted bail.

“In another incident, the judge denied ever ordering that the defense be furnished with police docket,” reads the lawyers’ statement.

Moreover, the statement adds that the lawyers were unsuccessful in trying to rectify the injustice through seeking discovery of the relevant record of proceedings of court which they have not been furnished with to date by the court.

In their statement, the lawyers further argue that it is rather unfortunate that they are “being labeled by the less informed as engaging in delaying tactics when they are merely asking for things their clients are entitled to, which were denied by the system itself”.

The lawyers said from the day of the accused’s arrest, local judges claimed that the cases were to be heard by foreign judges.

The statement further said constitutionally, any individual charged with a criminal offense is entitled to fair hearing and also includes the right to be treated fairly and lawfully by state organs.

The lawyers posit that prior experiences of pre-trial unfairness are a determinant of the fact that justice in such instances cannot be served.

The lawyers said they would be willing and ready to continue representing their clients if the inhumane treatment meted out to them and the constitutional imperatives were addressed.

However, the lawyers maintain that if their clients’ grievances are not addressed, they will be forced to step aside and not entertain the “charade trials”.

The lawyers also said they are shocked by the silence of SADC while their clients suffer the denial of their rights.

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