Former soldier, wife win M140 000 in damages

MASERU – A former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) brigadier and his wife were yesterday awarded M140 000 for unlawful arrest and detention by the army.

High Court judge, Justice Semapapo Peete, awarded the damages to Motlalentoa Kopo and his wife ’Mamoneoa Kopo in a ruling delivered in the High Court yesterday.

Justice Peete awarded Kopo M20 000 for unlawful arrest and detention, M75 000 for contumelia and M5 000 for medical expenses that Kopo incurred. 

His wife, ’Mamoneheng Kopo, who is a teacher at Sefika High School, was awarded M15 000 for unlawful detention and
M25 000 for contumelia with costs.

“The invasion of their privacy at their home on June 18, 2007 was unlawful and groundless,” Justice Peete ruled yesterday afternoon.

Kopo had claimed M505 000 for unlawful arrest and detention, contumelia and medical expenses, while his wife had claimed M250 000 for unlawful arrest and detention.

Both the court and lawyers representing the two parties felt that the claims were too high.

They however left the amount to be determined by the court.

The couple was arrested on June 18, 2007 following attacks on government ministers in the post-election disturbances that rocked Lesotho.

Kopo, who was suspected to have participated in the attacks, was detained for 26 hours in handcuffs at the army barracks at Ha Ratjomose.

When he went to relieve himself he said he had to be assisted by a young officer to unzip his trousers. He was released the following day on June 19, 2007.

On that day, according to the evidence, members of the LDF stormed his home in Lithabaneng.

They found his wife preparing to take the children to school and they took her in a van to a place near the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association where they found Kopo standing in the forecourt.

They surrounded him and pointed rifles at him.

The soldiers bundled Kopo into a van to the LDF headquarters at Ratjomose Barracks.

Army officers, Mofomobe Taneso, and one Captain Ntoi demanded to know from Kopo where he had hidden army rifles.

They asked him whether he belonged to the opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party but he denied being a member of that party.

Justice Peete said the arrest and detention of Kopo and his wife violated their privacy and fundamental human rights which are guaranteed under the Constitution of Lesotho.

He cited section 11 of the Constitution which stipulates that every person shall be entitled to be accorded respect in his life and family home.

Justice Peete said the court did not know under which orders the soldiers were acting, except that they were members of the Lesotho Defence Force.

The court said it was of the view that even though the plaintiff was grossly humiliated during the relentless interrogation he was neither tortured nor physically assaulted.

“The United Nations Declaration on the Universal Human rights outlawed torture, and it is the function of courts to uphold those rights,” Justice Peete said.

“Both plaintiffs are valued with esteem by members of the public and no one whether he is a soldier or not, should be allowed to treat other human beings brutally and inhumanely,” Justice Peete said.  

He said the humiliation and treatment to which Kopo was subjected was unwarranted. 

“Significantly the arresters of the plaintiff have not proved the allegations against the plaintiff.  The burden of proving those allegations rests on the people who detained the plaintiff,” Justice Peete said.

Senior counsel Motiea Teele appeared for plaintiffs and Advocate Motsieloa for the LDF.

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