January 22, 2016
Friday 22 January is the international Day of the Endangered Lawyer. It is a day in which we draw focus on those in the legal profession who in representing their clients face harassment, persecution, injury and death. Events in the past year have highlighted the gravity of these concerns in Lesotho and Swaziland and how threats to the independence and safety of lawyers and legal profession so often mark a deepening disrespect for the rule of law.
In the early days of a security crisis in Lesotho from May last year, a number of soldiers in the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) were apprehended by members of their own army. Many were “arrested” on their way to work, others were taken away from their homes by masked and un-uniformed armed men, leaving their families with no information on where they had been taken, for what purpose or by whom. With little recourse, they turned to lawyers practicing in Maseru to assist them in moving habeas corpus applications, a legal mechanism to challenge unlawful detention. The manner in which the detained soldiers were eventually brought before court has marked the beginning of many months in Lesotho in which courageous lawyers, who have sought to enforce the law and defend their clients’ rights, have worked under direct threats and intimidation, seeking justice at the barrel of a gun.