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Updated Feb 24, 2020

The prime minister of Lesotho, Thomas Thabane, appeared in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court today, February 24, on a charge of murder for the shooting death of his first wife, Lipolelo Thabane, and the attempted murder of a friend who was with her at the time, Thato Sibolla, who was wounded in the attack. An unknown assailant shot them a couple of days before Thabane was sworn in as prime minister on June 16, 2017. 

Thabane was supposed to have appeared in court on Friday already, but failed to do so. His office later issued a statement saying he was in South Africa for medical treatment. He was accompanied to court for the rescheduled hearing by his current wife, Maesaiah Thabane, who is out on bail after she was charged with the same crimes after initially fleeing to South Africa in January to escape arrest. 

His lawyers argued in court that Thabane’s position as prime minister makes him immune from prosecution and that he cannot be charged. The case has now been referred to the High Court. 

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy, and according to the country’s constitution the king cannot be charged with a crime, but the constitution is not clear on whether similar immunity would apply to a prime minister. Judges of the High Court and the Constitutional Court will have to give an opinion on the matter. 

This will be the first time an African head of state is charged with murder while in office, and the case will certainly set a precedent. 

Thabane has said that he will retire at the end of July this year, despite factions of his own party, the All Basotho Convention, calling for his immediate resignation.

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