Amnesty slams Lesotho for detention of mutiny soldiers

By Hassan Isilow

JOHANNESBURG (AA) – Rights group Amnesty International on Friday condemned a Lesotho court decision which authorized the continued detention of 16 soldiers accused of plotting a mutiny last year.

Twenty-three soldiers were arrested last June on allegations of planning a mutiny against the leadership of the Lesotho Defense Forces (LDF), but seven were later released.

However, a Lesotho high court ruled last October that it was unlawful to continue detaining the 16 soldiers without a proper trial and ordered their release on bail, but the defense forces refused to comply with the order.

On Friday, the Lesotho Court of Appeals turned down an application by the soldiers to be released on bail, instead authorizing the military to continue their detention.

“Today’s decision by the Lesotho Court of Appeals to deny bail to 16 soldiers raises serious questions about Lesotho’s justice system,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for southern Africa, said in an email statement to Anadolu Agency.

He said releasing the soldiers on bail would have helped them get adequate medical care and effective access to their legal advisers, which has not been possible since they are in detention.

Amnesty says allegations of torture of some of the soldiers have also surfaced.

The rights group says the soldiers are now facing a court martial which is due to resume on May 9.

“Under international standards people charged with criminal offenses 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,” Muchena said.

The Kingdom of Lesotho, a former British protectorate, has faced several military coups since gaining independence in 1996.