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Judges must shut out the ‘noise’



FOR almost two years, former Lesotho army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and 14 other soldiers, all accused of serious crimes, have been languishing in remand prison in Maseru.
A combination of factors have meant their long awaited trials could not begin on time. Following last week’s Constitutional Court’s ruling the trial of Lt Gen Kamoli and many others can now begin in earnest.

Lt Gen Kamoli has in the past insisted that he was not guilty of any of the heinous crimes that he is being accused of and wants his day in court.
We believe the other 14 soldiers who are being jointly charged with him share similar feelings. Over the past two years, Lt Gen Kamoli, and his fellow accused who include former defence minister Tšeliso Mokhosi, have fought tooth and nail to block the appointment of foreign judges to preside over their case.
They were however dealt a telling blow last week after the Constitutional Court ruled the government had acted within the law when it appointed a Zimbabwean judge to hear the matter.
The judgment has now effectively paved way for the trial to begin in earnest.

Even though the accused are facing serious charges, we believe it would be a gross violation of their constitutional rights to keep them locked up at the Maseru Maximum Prison without trial.
Lt Gen Kamoli has already said he is itching to have his day in court.
We now expect the courts to move swiftly in handling these matters and bring a measure of finality on what has been a very contentious phase in the history of our country. The accused soldiers deserve some measure of closure.

This will be a political trial. The foreign judges no doubt will pay due cognisance to the unique circumstances in which they will operate.
They must take into account the historical context which has given birth to the current toxic politics in Lesotho.
The political polarisation perhaps fed fears, which are real, that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government was out to pick nobbled judges to come up with a predetermined outcome.
That argument was however neatly dismantled by the Constitutional Court last week.

It could also be argued that Lt Gen Kamoli, et al, have all been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.
That is why it is critical for any foreign judge who will be assigned to hear the cases to close their minds to the ongoing “noise” and deliver a fair judgment.
There is no doubt that Lt Gen Kamoli is an enigmatic figure who splits opinions depending on who you speak to. The current government sees him as the “Devil incarnate” who stormed the State House and some police stations in 2014 in an attempt to topple Thabane.

But his admirers, who are many, insist Lt Gen Kamoli is “a loyal and competent soldier”, to quote the words of former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
No matter how serious a charge Lt Gen Kamoli and his fellow soldiers face, they still must be heard through a fair legal process.
The foreign judges must rise to the occasion and shut out the noise and deliver a fair judgment that will take this country forward. Any judgment that is deemed to have been influenced by politicians will leave Lesotho in a worse off state.
But if found guilty through a fair legal process, Lt Gen Kamoli and his fellow accused must be willing to pay the price and serve jail term in line with societal expectations.


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