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Widow slaps police with M1 million lawsuit

Nat Molomo

A 2011 case of alleged police brutality has come back to haunt the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) after a Maseru widow recently slapped them with  a M1 Million lawsuit for “brutally killing” her husband.

The alleged case is one of the several accusations that have been levelled at the police service in recent times by the public, opposition parties, civil society organisations and Lesotho’s development partners. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has however, promised that his government will act to ensure that rogue police officers are brought to book.

In the latest case against the police, ‘Makeabetsoe Selete, whose husband, Lekhetho, was allegedly killed by police officers at Flight One Police Station in 2011, is demanding M1 020 000 as compensation for the death of her husband.

The case is before the High Court and it will be heard on the 13th and 14th of this month. At the time of his death, Mr Selete was 35 years old and employed in the construction industry.

According to the court papers filed by Ms Selete of Thaba-Bosiu in the Maseru district, her husband “was brutally killed by the police of Flight One Police Station sometime on or about 23 April 2011, where chief of the area had held a meeting to tell the community about the stolen stock of a villager, Taunyane Mokoaleli”.

“The plaintiff prays for an order directing the defendants to pay the plaintiff’s claim for damages in the amount of M600 000 for the loss of support, M400 000 for the killing of the deceased and M20 000 for funeral expenses.”

Ms Selete further wants the police to pay unspecified amounts for the cost of the lawsuit and “further and/or alternative relief”.

The Minister of Police, Commissioner of Police, District Commissioner Maseru (Rural) at Flight One in Mazenod and the Attorney-General are cited as the 1st to the 4th respondents respectively.

Ms Selete alleges that the police killed her husband in cold blood on 23 April 2011. The incident occurred after the area chief of Ntlokholo in Thaba Bosiu had convened a meeting to discuss the theft of livestock belonging to one Taunyane Mokoaleli.

Ms Selete’s now deceased husband took part in the meeting at the chief’s place at Ntlokholo where the suspects who stole Mr Mokoaleli’s livestock had already been apprehended by the villagers. According to Ms Selete, her husband and others were tasked by the villagers and the community “requested the chief to go and ask police to come and get suspects”.

“After sometime plaintiff (Ms Selete) heard gunshots from the direction of the chief’s area.

“On arrival the plaintiff noticed the presence of the police and her husband was lying on the ground facing downwards and the multitude of people at the meeting and nearby house were all making noise, asking why the police were shooting our people when we had only asked them to come and help us about the suspects. This happened between 15 00 hours and 16 hours.

“On the following day that is on 24 April 2011 she (Ms Selete) received a report from (fellow villagers) Motlalepula Selete and Mpheulane Mpheulane that her husband was dead. Subsequent to this incident, the District Commissioner of Maseru Rural, Mr Seturumane came to the village to calm down the community and promised that police will start the investigation about the incident. But she never heard anything until she instituted this action against the defendants.”

Ms Selete’s lawyer, Advocate Thabang Letsie, states in the court papers that the she sought assistance from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the Ministry of Home Affairs — Police Standards Office and the Police Headquarters Legal Office to no avail.

Adv Letsie states that even though the incident happened a long time ago, the plaintiff continued to be affected by the loss of her husband as he was the sole breadwinner for his family.

“The plaintiff’s husband was working in the construction industry and he was the sole breadwinner for his family. He was having the dependents, his sickly mother, father and children of his deceased brother that were entirely to be supported by him from day to day. This unfortunate act terminated his life at the age of 35. He was expected to retire at the age of 60, meaning he still had another 25 years to take care of his family before retirement.  The plaintiff was granted condonation for the late filing of this case. She is continually suffering from the death of her husband, loss of support for the children and dependents and this loss deserves to be compensated,” Adv Letsie states further states.

The case is one of several 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 the Lesotho Times 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 Ms ’Mampho Mokhele torched a storm when he 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.

Two months ago, 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.

The United States ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, has also warned that Lesotho risks losing out on the multi-million-dollar second compact under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) due to concerns about “unacceptable” corruption and police brutality against citizens.

“I am deeply concerned about alarming reports of corruption and police brutality — behaviour that is unacceptable and non-negotiable.  The consequences of an interrupted compact development will not be as serious as the negative impact to the people of Lesotho caused by failure to address these critical issues,” Ms Gonzales said in February.

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