THE under-fire Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) are once again in the eye of the storm over allegations of brutality against civilians. This follows a recent incident in which members of the LMPS’ Special Operations Unit (SOU) in Maseru were captured on video physically abusing some vendors by forcing them to roll on the hard ground as punishment for allegedly engaging in illegal activities of assisting the public to access vehicle licences at a fee at the Traffic Department.
POLICE Spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli this week condemned the incident and told the Lesotho Times that they were investigating. Supt Mopeli however, suggested that the victims were to blame for the degrading punishment that was inflicted on them.
In the video clip which is making waves on social media, passersby are seen looking on helplessly as five men roll on the ground from left to right and vice versa. The men even collide with each other but have to continue with the punishment under the instructions and watchful eyes of the police officers- one of whom yells at them to “roll even more”.
The alleged crime of the five men is soliciting for desperate clients who they assist for a fee to obtain licences and other vehicle-related permits. The men wait for prospective clients in the vicinity of the Traffic Department in Maseru.
Supt Mopeli said the police were aware of the allegations of brutality and he suggested that the victims should also shoulder some of the blame for the degrading punishment that was inflicted on them.
“There was no special police operation in place (to deal with the illegal activities of the vendors) but those men were not cooperative when they were told to leave the place, hence the police reacted the way they did,” Supt Mopeli said.
“But it is not right to treat people like that and it is not for us to behave like that when we are an institution which is mandated to protect people’s lives and their property. Therefore, we are investigating what could have led to that inhuman treatment.
“We’ll only be able to know what will happen to those (rogue) officers once we have gotten to the bottom of the story because on its own the video clip is not enough evidence.”
Supt Mopeli also said it was illegal for anyone to take advantage of “the inefficient traffic department system” and solicit for money from people to help them to access services.
“To solicit money from anyone seeking services from the traffic or any department is against the law. We all know that bribery is unlawful and those who engage in it commit a crime,” said Sup Mopeli.
The incident is the latest in a long series of cases that have focused the spotlight on the police for brutality against civilians. There have been other cases of torture of suspects and some of the suspects have allegedly died at the hands of the police.
A recent African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) report seen by this publication expresses concern over the “persistent allegations of police brutality” in Lesotho and called on the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations.
“The government should incorporate the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in all its actions as well as in the legal, policy and institutional reforms which would be initiated as a result of the ongoing national dialogue,” the ACHPR report states.
Early last year, Police Minister ‘Mampho Mokhele torched a storm when she publicly admitted that the police used illegal methods including torture to extract confessions from suspects.
Ms Mokhele, who served as a police officer for 37 years, made the revelation at a ceremony where the LMPS was presented with forensic equipment donated by the Algerian government.
She said she hoped the donation would go a long way in removing the need for torture as the police could now use it to determine whether or not a suspect had been involved in the commission of a crime.
“We, as the police, are often forced to use violence to get information out of people because at times we would be sure that the suspect committed the crime but due to lack of tangible evidence we have to use force,” Ms Mokhele said.
Last month, the Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, condemned police brutality and ordered Ms Mokhele to furnish him with a report of how the ministry has dealt with cases of police officers suspected of human rights violations.
Foreign Affairs and International Affairs Minister Lesego Makgothi recently said that the government was not deaf to the public outcry over the alleged police brutality and it would soon conduct inquests into the alleged civilian deaths and thereafter deal with the “rogue elements within our police service”.
“This (torturing of suspects) is unacceptable and we are going to deal with such officers. We will not allow them to bring the name of the government into disrepute,” Mr Makgothi said.