Maseru – On Monday 5 October 2015, the Maseru High Court, per Justice Makara, ordered that the close arrest of 23 soldiers by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) is unlawful and set it aside, effecting a legal compulsion for their immediate release.
The case of Mareka and 22 Others v the Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force and Others was brought on an urgent basis by 23 soldiers who were arrested on charges relating to an alleged mutiny plot. The applicants seek to cooperate with a SADC-initiated Commission of Inquiry, which has been established to investigate the mutiny plot allegations and the killing of the former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao. Mahao was killed by members of the LDF during the course of his arrest on mutiny-related charges.
On Monday, the Court ordered that the LDF must release the soldiers on “open arrest,” a form of military bail. The Court did not, however, grant other relief sought by the applicants including postponing or setting aside the court martial process until the conclusion of the Commission’s proceedings.
“The Court’s decision affirms the independence of the judiciary in Lesotho which has repeatedly faced great intimidation in the last months. Should the LDF respect the Constitution and the rule of law in Lesotho, they will comply with the Court order and release the detainees immediately,” says Advocate Shale Shale, President of the Lesotho Law Society.
“The soldiers’ immediate release will bring immense relief to their families and ensure that they will be protected from the severe torture and abuse that a number of these soldiers have alleged to have suffered in detention. The families will enjoy reuniting with their loved ones,” says Mr Booi Mohapi, the Executive Secretary for the Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice.
“It is vital for these soldiers to be able to cooperate freely with the SADC Commission if it is to have any credibility at all in determining the mutiny plot allegations and Mahao’s death. Any efforts by the LDF to prevent their unencumbered cooperation with the Commission is a brazen effort to subvert the truth,” says Mr Tšoeu Petlane, Director of the Transformation Resources Centre.