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Editor’s shooting trial postponed again

Lesotho's widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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Mohalenyane Phakela

THE trial of four soldiers accused of the attempted murder of former Lesotho Times and Sunday Express editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, has again been postponed, this time to 16 November 2022.

The latest postponement is to enable the four to file their replying affidavits in their application challenging the decision of the Crown to turn one of the suspects, Mahanyane Phusumane, into an accomplice witness. The four are represented by Advocates Letuka Molati, Karabo Mohau and Kabelo Letuka.

Phusumane was initially charged alongside the quartet of Rapele Mphaki, Khutlang Mochesane, Nyatso Tšoeunyane and Maribe Nathane.

However, on 3 September 2019, the prosecution decided to drop the charges against him and turn him into a state witness.

He was then freed from Maseru Central Correctional Institution where he had been remanded alongside the four. Unhappy with the move, the four had then indicated that they would challenge the decision and even apply for discharge. They argued on 25 July this year that there was no prospect of them ever getting a fair trial because Phusumane, who had been turned into a state witness, was privy to their defence strategy. Now that he had been turned into a state witness, he could use this against them, thus comprising their rights to a fair trial, they argued.

Lead prosecutor, Rethabile Setlojoane, had counter-argued that the referral application was merely a delaying tactic by the accused who were only belatedly raising the issue.

Advocate Setlojoane told presiding magistrate, Peter Murenzi, that the defence lawyers had first said on 4 September 2019 that they would file a constitutional application challenging the Crown’s decision to turn Phusumane into a state witness. He said even though the trial had been deferred to allow the filing of that application, it never happened.

When the trial resumed on 3 August 2022, Adv Molati told the court that they had filed an application in the magistrates’ court for the matter to be referred to the Constitutional Court to determine whether the trial should not be permanently stayed for allegedly violating fair trial principles.

However, the application for referral to the Constitutional Court failed to proceed as expected on Tuesday.

This after Adv Letuka requested a postponement as they had not filed their replying affidavits to the Crown’s court papers on the matter.

“We were supposed to argue the referral matter today but we are not ready,” Adv Letuka said. The Crown was supposed to file its answering papers on 19 September 2022 but that did not happen and we only got served a few days ago.

“Our reply is complete, but we need to go to the correctional institution in order for the accused to sign their affidavits before we can file them in this court. We therefore ask for a postponement,” he added.

Adv Mosae Musi, who stood in for Adv Setlojoane, did not object to the request for a postponement.

Magistrate Murenzi duly postponed the matter to 16 November 2022. On that day, the two sides will present their arguments on the referral application.

This will only delay the trial further.

Mr Mutungamiri was left for dead when he was ambushed and shot at by soldiers upon his arrival at his Upper Thamae, Maseru home on 9 July 2016.