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Govt investigating police brutality: Mokhothu

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

DEPUTY Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu says the cabinet is considering setting up a commission of inquiry to investigate widespread allegations of police brutality.

Mr Mokhothu said the cabinet had already ordered ministers in charge of the security agencies to investigate the allegations and their findings will determine if a commission of inquiry is necessary.

The two ministers who have been tasked with probing the issue and reporting to cabinet are ‘Mamoipone Senauoane (Police and Public Safety) and Prince Maliehe (Defence and National Security).

Speaking at the weekend burial of his Democratic Congress (DC) party’s legislator for the Kolo Constituency, Putsoane Leeto, Mr Mokhothu said the government was not deaf to the alleged reports of police brutality.

He said the cabinet had already ordered Ms Senauoane and Mr Maliehe to investigate and table reports on the issue before cabinet maps the way forward.

“There is the issue of alleged civilian fatalities at the hands of police officers,” Mr Mokhothu said, adding, “We will take action on that issue”.

“We have already instructed the ministers responsible for the security sector to give us detailed reports on the cases and where the alleged perpetrators are based. If need be, after the reports, we will establish a commission of inquiry so that the legal actions taken will be above board without any ulterior motives,” Mr Mokhothu said.

Even when they were still in the opposition, Mr Mokhothu and his DC party were very vocal about the need to discipline rogue police officers and end police brutality.

Despite a seemingly bright start in fighting crime after his August 2018 appointment by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli appears to have gone off the rails.

Under his watch, the police have increasingly become brutal towards civilian suspects.

In July 2019, 31-year-old Kabelo Ratia of Nazareth, Maseru was tortured by police to the point where he soiled himself and was made to eat his own faeces.

Attorney General Advocate Haae Phoofolo in on record saying the government was “against the inhumane and degrading treatment which some of the suspects are subjected to while being investigated by police”.

“All police officers who have been implicated in incidents of torture should be answerable for their actions. The degradation of the suspect who was made to eat his own faeces should be thoroughly investigated with a view to acting against the officers involved.

“Rogue police officers should toe the line. This is totally unacceptable, it’s inhumane and degrading,” Adv Phoofolo said shortly after it was reported that Mr Ratia had been tortured and made to eat his own faeces.

Early this year, then Prime Minister Thabane unsuccessfully tried to fire Commissioner Molibeli for allegedly failing to discipline officers accused of brutality against citizens.

There have been renewed calls by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service Staff Association (LEPOSA) for Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro to suspend Commissioner Molibeli to facilitate investigations into a plethora of issues including his alleged failure to deal with rogue police officers who engage in acts of brutality against ordinary citizens.

The reports of torture and deaths of suspects in police custody has also focused the international spotlight on Lesotho’s human rights records. Some key development partners such as the United States government have warned the government of a looming suspension of critical development assistance if corrective measures are not taken.

A recent African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) report seen by this publication also expresses concern over the “persistent allegations of police brutality” in Lesotho and calls on the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations.

In August 2019, the government told Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders that 30 rogue police officers accused of brutality would face criminal charges.

None of the officers have been tried to date.

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