Lesotho: Court ruling to allow ongoing detention of soldiers raises further questions about fair trial
A court ruling that allows the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) to continue to keep 16 soldiers detained raises further serious concerns about their ability to have a fair trial, Amnesty International said today, following a decision announced by the Lesotho Court of Appeal.
The Appeals Court turned down a request by the soldiers to be placed under “open arrest”, a form of military bail, after they challenged their ongoing detention under “closed arrest” since May and June 2015.
The High Court had previously ordered that the men be released on “open arrest” but the LDF, who are detaining the men in Maseru Maximum Security Prison, did not comply with the ruling. Today’s ruling by the Court of Appeals thereby overruled the earlier High Court decision.
“Today’s decision by the Lesotho Court of Appeal to deny bail to 16 soldiers who have been held in maximum security since June last year raises serious questions about the Lesotho’s justice system,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Southern Africa.
“Release on bail would help ensure the soldiers can have adequate medical care, as necessary, and prompt and effective access to their legal advisers, something that has not been possible while in detention.”
The soldiers are facing a court martial over allegations of mutiny. The court martial is due to resume on 9 May.
Under international standards people charged with criminal offences should not, as a general rule, be held in custody pending trial, unless the state shows that it is necessary and proportionate to deprive them of their liberty. Today, the Court of Appeal dismissed the soldiers’ appeal today against their detention without giving a reason.
Amnesty International has previously expressed serious concern about the treatment of the soldiers and their rights to a fair trial and not to be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.
Allegations that some of the soldiers were tortured following their detention last year surfaced during previous court appearances by the soldiers.
In October 2015 the High Court had ordered that 23 soldiers, including the 16 affected by today’s ruling, be put on open arrest, but the army did not comply with this order. Seven of the soldiers were later released on bail following separate legal proceedings but 16 remain in Maseru Maximum Security Prison.
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