MASERU Magistrate, Makopano Rantšo, on Monday released on free bail 11 youths who were arrested last Friday for engaging in an “illegal” demonstration.
The 11 accused are expected back in court on 14 December 2020. They will appear before Chief Magistrate ‘Matankiso Nthunya who is expected to set their trial date.
The accused are Rammatli Phakisi, Thuto Morahanye, Kahisano Kolobe, Thesele Moshoeshoe, Tumo Tsanyane, Thabiso Kelane, Matela Semoli, Limakatso Tšepe, Mahlakisa Mothobi, Mabataung Sehlabo and Tšeliso Metsing.
They are charged with contravening section 85 of the Penal Code in that on 6 November 2020 they allegedly vandalised street vendors’ stalls and caused commotion in the Maseru central business district. They were also charged with violating the Public Meeting and Processions Act by taking part in an illegal march.
They were arrested on Friday and detained at Maseru Central Police Station until Monday when they were brought to court.
Their lawyers told the court that they were subjected to inhuman treatment in police custody and were made to sleep on the floor.
The lawyers said their clients had not bathed since their Friday detention while the female suspects were denied access to sanitary pads.
They were also denied access to medical attention after they were allegedly assaulted by the police officers who arrested them.
The suspects were represented by Advocates Sekoala Makara, Makhabane Masupha and Phoka Matete.
“Some of the accused persons were assaulted by the police and they have bruises to prove that. Furthermore, the accused were not informed why they were arrested, they are only learning now when their charges are being read to them,” Adv Makara said.
“They raised concerns about inhabitable conditions in the holding cells especially during this time of Covid-19. They aver that there was no proper ventilation. Some experienced anxiety attacks but were not properly assisted. There are no lights in the holding cells. There are neither beds nor mattresses. Tumo was not afforded medical care although he was assaulted. The scars are visible on his hands.
“Investigations were done illegally and that defeats the ends of justice because they were remanded under those conditions. We pray that their remand be dismissed and that they be released.”
Adv Masupha added that the police invaded the accused’s privacy by taking their mobile phones and deleted videos and photos that they had taken during their arrests.
“While in custody, one of the ladies who was on her periods was denied access to sanitary wear. Another lady was denied the right to breastfeed her new-born baby. They haven’t bathed since their detention,” Adv Masupha said.
However, Crown Counsel Advocate Lebohang Phooko denied the allegations saying the accused could not be afforded luxuries while in police custody.
“He who makes an allegation must prove it and there is no medical report before the court to support the allegations of torture. We have a report of the investigating officer who says he gave the accused their rights.
“It is not only the accused persons who have been subjected to holding cells, everyone who is arrested by the police is detained there. That is a holding cell and not a hotel, what did they expect? It is not our fault that the government did not provide sanitary towels for detainees,” Adv Phooko said.
He also argued that the defence lawyers had failed to substantiate their pleas for release and therefore their application should be dismissed.
Magistrate Rantšo adjourned proceedings for about 15 minutes and returned to deliver her ruling which dismissed the accused’s application for discharge. She only released the accused on bail.
“The defence has failed dismally to tell this court why all the accused persons ought not to be remanded as a result this court admits them to bail on condition that they attend remands, they do not interfere with crown witnesses and they stand trial to finality. The accused are remanded to 14 December 2020,” Magistrate Rantšo ordered.
Several opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) legislators including former Gender, Youth, Sport and Recreation Minister Mahali Phamotse, Thuso Litjobo, ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli and Mokherane Tsatsanyane attended the court session in solidarity with the youths.
Before the start of the proceedings, some youths in the gallery attempted to drive out the politicians out, saying they did want them making political mileage of their protest.
But Mr Tsatsanyane said they had attended court only as the people’s representatives in parliament. He said they had paid the legal fees for the accused persons but if they were unwelcome, then they would leave peacefully. The two parties eventually settled their differences before court proceedings commenced.
After the court proceedings, the youths broke into song again outside the court premises while dancing and raising their fists.