Maseru,26 October 2014 – A Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) officer Second Lieutenant Thabang Phaila is a free man.
Justice Farlam rejected the High Court order that gave a military tribunal a leeway to charge the officer for mutiny and desertion. He had fled the country at the peak of a political unrest that took place in September 1998 triggering a military intervention by the SADC forces led by the South African Defence Force.
The officer had sought High Court intervention to review and set aside the military tribunal process but Justice Molefi Makara turned down the demand. He argued, among others, that Phaila had failed to prove he qualified for the government’s amnesty on the basis of the officer’s non-disclosure of any criminal, civil or military offence which he had committed.
Thereafter, the military tribunal imposed a 12-year jail term to Phaila after finding him guilty of the two charges. He appealed the decision allowing for a military prosecution against him.
The amnesty has been pronounced by the Lesotho government for persons who fled the country due to politically motivated offences. Phaila returned to Lesotho after a pronouncement of that amnesty.
Upon his return, he was arrested while attending a funeral just outside the city of Maseru by soldiers in the escort team of the army commander and detained in the military confinement.
In granting Phaila’s appeal, Justice Farlam observed it unfair for the prosecution of the officer in a situation where he had been induced to “come back to Lesotho by a statement made by a former minister (Mophato Monyake) of justice.” He said it was also unfair in the circumstances to arrest and charge Phaila due to his presence in the country.
A commission formed by the government in 2000 had recommended that Phaila be charged with sedition, alternatively public violence forcing him not to return to Lesotho.