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Army prisoners probed over national security breaches

by Lesotho Times
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  • preliminary probe shows prisoners’ secret illegal communications with politicians

Pascalinah Kabi

THE army, police, prisons and intelligence service are all investigating what they call a major breach of national security after a mobile phone was smuggled into the prison cell of murder-accused army officer, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, allegedly by his wife. The phone was then used to facilitate communication between Captain Nyakane and his fellow inmates and unnamed senior government officials and prominent politicians.

Prisoners are prohibited from keeping cellphones or any other communication devices in their cells.   Captain Nyakane’s wife, Mampho, has since been declared a threat to national security over her alleged role in smuggling the phone into the prison in November last year.

Although the mobile phone was Captain Nyakane’s, there are strong suspicions that other high profile prisoners were also using it for nefarious actions.  More than a dozen soldier are currently languishing in remand prison awaiting trial for various crimes including the 2015 murder of army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao.

Authoritative sources in the security agencies this week told the Lesotho Times that Captain Nyakane, who is detained at the Maseru Correctional Facility along with former army commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli, and other members of the various security agencies had been illegally in possession of the mobile phone after it was allegedly smuggled into his prison cell last November by his wife, Mampho Nyakane.

The sources said records of communications from the mobile phone showed that Captain Nyakane conversed with some senior government officials and politicians on “confidential” major policy issues. The sources said investigations were ongoing to establish why the government officials conversed with Captain Nyakane who was arrested by the same government on allegations of murdering army commander, Lt-Gen Mahao, among other crimes. The investigations will also seek to establish whether or not Captain Nyakane was the only high profile prisoner involved in the illegal communications.

Commissioner of the Lesotho Correctional Service, Thabang Mothepu, this week told the Lesotho Times he could not go into the details of the matter but “I can only confirm that investigations are ongoing”.

The sources said prison authorities were none the wiser because the phone was concealed between slices of bread which Ms Nyakane allegedly brought for her husband during visiting hours.

The prison authorities only discovered the phone last month and by then it had been used in communications with some senior government officials for reasons that are still to be established.

“Sometime last month, the management of the LCS received an intelligence report that one of the high profile inmates was in possession of a cellphone and a random search was immediately carried out.

“The officers who conducted the search discovered a cellphone hidden in one of the corners of the holding cells. The officers left the cells without alerting the inmates that a cellphone had been found but decided to closely monitor the behavior of every inmate in that cell. Captain Nyakane was later spotted rushing to the same corner where the cellphone had been hidden, raising suspicions that the cell phone belonged to him,” one source said.

Another source alleged that the correctional service officials immediately conducted investigations that pointed to Captain Nyakane as the culprit. Subsequent to the investigations, the prison officials interrogated Ms Nyakane who allegedly confessed to smuggling the cellphone into the correctional facility.

“She (Ms Nyakane) initially denied knowledge of the cellphone even though records showed that she was one of the people who called Captain Nyakane on that phone after it had been smuggled into the correctional service. She eventually broke down and confessed that she had smuggled the phone.

“She said that the phone was smuggled during one of her visits in November 2018. She said the phone was well hidden between slices of bread that she brought for her husband during visiting hours,” another source said.

The source further said that the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and National Security Service (NSS) were immediately alerted of the development.

“Further investigations revealed that some of the senior government officials used the cellphone to communicate with Nyakane on various issues including some of the policy issues,” the source said without elaborating.

“The government comprises of four parties and it does not always follow that they are motivated by similar policy considerations and interests,” the source said upon being asked why the government would have dealings with Captain Nyakane who it had sent to the slammers alongside Lt-Gen Kamoli and other high profile prisoners. The governing coalition, which came to power in June 2017, comprises of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

So far there have not been any indications of major policy differences in the coalition parties.  There have nonetheless been information that the parties are divided over the issue of extending a general amnesty to all prisoners from security agencies fingered in human rights violations during the reign of the former seven parties coalition headed by former Democratic Congress leader Pakalitha Mosisili.

This week, the LCS Commissioner Mothepu said “investigations are ongoing” with regards to the national security threat that allegedly resulted from the smuggling of the mobile phone into  Captain Nyakane’s prison cell and its subsequent use in communications with politicians.

Another source said the police questioned Ms Nyakane last month.

On his part, the Police Spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, told this publication that “it is true that Ms Nyakane was here (at the police for questioning) and investigations into the matter are ongoing”.

Meanwhile, the LDF has written to Ms Nyakane notifying her of her looming eviction from an official quarters allocated to her husband in the Makoanyane Barracks at Ha Leqele in Maseru. The army gave Ms Nyakane seven days to ‘show cause’ why she may not be evicted from the official LDF quarters allocated to her incarcerated husband.

Part of the letter dated 11 April 2019 states that “whereas you (Ms Nyakane), while still staying in the official quarters, perpetrated the procurement of a cellphone and facilitated its unlawful entering of the correctional services premises for an unlawful use by your husband therein”.

“And whereas you, after being searched and/or investigated for complicity in the said offence at the official (army) quarters where you are staying, went to the media to tarnish the good name of the LDF in that the LDF and its sister institutions had come to your residence to terrorise your kids… Be informed therefore that in the given circumstances, you are now considered a threat to peace and security.”

Ms Nyakane’s lawyers responded to the letter on 17 April 2019 requesting the army to confirm if they had indeed authored the letter.

They further asked for evidence to support the army’s claims that Ms Nyakane was a threat to national security.

“We request your good office to proffer and answer us with substantive jurisdictional facts, material information and/ or evidence which informed your conclusions, that our client: perpetrated procurement of a cellphone and facilitated its entry into the correctional services premises.

“Be kind enough to tell us the following:

  • What is the make and model of the cellphone you are referring to?
  • When and where did our client procure the cell phone you are referring to?
  • When and how did our client facilitate the entry of the said cellphone into the correctional service premises and cells?
  • When and who did the searching and investigation(s)?
  • What is the crime that our client was being searched and/or investigated for being complicit in? What was the charge preferred against our client and by who?
  • We assume that your assertion that our client compromised national security by providing an unlawful communication device in prison cells is based on some substantive jurisdictional facts and conclusions. When and before which court was our client criminally charged with the crime(s) that you are referring to in your letter?”

The lawyers also demanded to be told “when and how Ms Nyakane compromised the national security” and they also asked the army to tell them how Ms Nyakane tarnished the image of the LDF and its sister institutions.

They further want the army to tell them if the LDF carried out investigations to back up its claims and “if your (army’s) answer is in the affirmative when was this done and was our client given a chance to make representations?”

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