Sixteen soldiers detained in Maseru Maximum Security Prison for suspected mutiny were allegedly denied food on Sunday and Monday morning as punishment for a ‘fun-walk’ their children have organised to commemorate Father’s Day.
According to the soldiers’ lawyer and children and who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, the detainees have been threatened with more punishment if the Father’s Day commemoration set for 19 June in Maseru, is not called off.
The detainees were allegedly first verbally abused by their guards and then told they would suffer because of their children’s “politically motivated” fun-walk before they were denied the food.
The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) has, however, rejected the claims while acting Defence and National Security Minister Likeli Tampane accused opposition political parties of being behind the “false” allegations to tarnish government’s image.
However, the Lesotho Times was told five of the soldiers were placed in solitary confinement on Sunday after the food fiasco and defying orders issued by one of their guards, arguing he was “too junior” to give them any instructions.
The guard, a Corporal, had allegedly told the detainees to stand in a queue so he could see if they were all present, only to be told off by those who outrank him.
It was this argument, the Lesotho Times further heard, which landed Brigadier Motoa, Colonel Stemere, Colonel Kolisang, Major Makhetha and Captain Chaka, in solitary confinement.
The detention, the Lesotho Times was further told, came after a Lieutenant-Colonel had allegedly told the soldiers their ranks counted for nothing as they were now prisoners.
On Monday, the detainees were also allegedly addressed by a Second-Lieutenant who told them as a result of their children’s “politically motivated walk”, their medication would be withdrawn.
One of the lawyers representing the soldiers, Attorney Tumisang Mosotho, yesterday said he had been informed of the “punishment” but was yet to personally verify the allegations.
Another lawyer representing the accused who refused to be identified, confirmed the detainees had been denied food and also said the five officers were now in solitary confinement for their defiance.
But a daughter of one of the detained soldiers yesterday told the Lesotho Times the ‘fun walk’ would continue despite their fathers’ “harassment”.
The 22-year-old also said the event had been organised by the families of the 23 soldiers who have been accused of plotting to overthrow the LDF command. The family of slain former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao is also part of the Father’s Day walk, she added.
Lieutenant-General Mahao was fatally shot by LDF members on 25 June 2015, allegedly while resisting arrest for being the brains behind the suspected mutiny.
The defiant daughter told the Lesotho Times: “We have decided to come out and break the silence by holding the walk to comfort each other on Father’s Day. We want to commemorate this day together as children of fathers who are facing similar hardships.
“But our fathers have told us that our decision to hold the fun-walk has angered certain people and they are now ill-treating them in detention.
“Our fathers informed us they had been denied food and placed under solitary confinement and they would not see the sun due to our actions.
“They also informed us they were threatened that some of us would not return from the Father’s Day commemoration if we go ahead with it.
“But we will not be intimidated; we will go ahead with the walk because we believe we have the right to celebrate this day the way we want.”
Another daughter of the detained soldiers told the Lesotho Times the walk is meant to bring the anguished children together so they could remember their fathers as one big family.
The 20-year-old, who also refused to be named, said the emotional torture the families of the detained soldiers have gone through since the arrests which took place between May and June 2015, had become unbearable.
She denied the walk was politically motivated, adding: “There is nothing political about our attempt to comfort each other as daughters and sons of the detained soldiers, those who fled the country and the children of Ntate Mahao.”
However, LDF Public Affairs Officer, Colonel Ntlele Ntoi, yesterday denied the alleged punishment of the soldiers.
“This is surprising because all soldiers in detention continue to receive food and there are no soldiers placed under solitary confinement,” said Colonel Ntoi.
Acting Defence and National Security Minister Tampane also denied the alleged punishment. According to Minister Tampane, the alleged ill-treatment of the soldiers was propaganda engineered by opposition political parties each time development partners visit Lesotho. United States Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southern Africa and Public Diplomacy, Todd Haskell, is in Lesotho to see the impact of the American government’s support for programmes aimed at fighting the scourge of HIV and AIDS. He also met government officials and members of the opposition yesterday to discuss, among others, the country’s political situation.
“When I learned about these claims, I sent one of my officials to find out what was really going on at the detention centre. But we have since established that the opposition is influencing these children to organise the walk without their parents’ knowledge,” Ms Tampane said.
“I also made inquiries with the LDF Commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli who assured me that his inquiries into the matter had revealed that the allegations are not true.”
Minister Tampane further said the allegations are meant to tarnish the image of the government, with the hope that Lesotho is shunned by the international community, particularly development partners, for perceived human rights abuses.
“Whenever we have a visitor, especially development partners from the United States, the opposition comes up with false accusations against the government and the army in their attempt to get attention,” she said.
Meanwhile the detainees’ Court Martial proceedings have since been postponed to 6 September 2016 to allow the soldiers’ challenge of the legality of their trial, which was referred to the Court Martial Appeal Court in February this year, to be finalised.
All in all, the soldiers who have been charged for alleged mutiny are 23 and their names are Brigadier Mareka, Brigadier Poqa Motoa, Colonel Stemere, Colonel Kolisang, Major Makhetha, Captain Chaka, Second-Lieutenant Mohasi, Sergeant Mokhobo, Sergeant Semakale, Sergeant Lekhabunyane, Corporal Mokhoro, Corporal Letsilane, Corporal Lipoto, Corporal Manaka, Corporal Mohatlane, Corporal Chele, Corporal Motseko, Lance-Corporal Jobo, Lance-Corporal Molefi, Lance-Corporal Makhooane, Private Pama, Private Bolofo and Private Ralitlemo.