Lawyer blasts police, govt for teenager’s killing

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. . . says there is no political will to end police brutality

Moorosi Tsiane/ Mohalenyane Phakela

HUMAN rights lawyer, Advocate Napo Mafaesa, has blasted the police for killing a 17-year-old boy in Tšenola, Maseru, last Saturday.

Ngaka Mohlehli was shot by an officer who was allegedly chasing a crime suspect just a stone’s throw away from the deceased’s home.

The shooting has sparked a public outcry with many questioning the police’s recklessness on radio and social media platforms.

In reaction to the public outcry, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, First Lady ‘Masekoalane Majoro, Police and Public Safety Minister Lepota Sekola, Motimposo legislator Thabang Mafojane and Government Secretary Lerotholi Pheko visited the Mohlehli family on Monday.

Commissioner Molibeli said during the visit the police had been disappointed by the incident.

“We are very disappointed as the police administration about this issue,” Commissioner Molibeli said.

“The officers were here to perform their duties and unfortunately, there was a mistake, and we are admitting to that,” Commissioner Molibeli said as the deceased’s mother, Puseletso Khiba and grandmother ‘Matsekiso Mohlehli sobbed uncontrollably.

“Measures are already being taken on this issue and we have already started our investigations which have proven that the deceased was not at fault,” he said.

However, Adv Mafaesa, who is also a member of the Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR), this week said Commissioner Molibeli had failed to rein in rogue police officers. The prominent lawyer is himself a victim of police brutality after he was tortured by officers along with his client, Liteboho Makhakhe, in January this year.

Adv Mafaesa was arrested at Hopolang Building in Maseru and briefly detained at the nearby police headquarters before being moved to Mabote Police Station where he was severely tortured by members of the police Special Operations Unit (SOU).

He was arrested on allegations of concealing a gun belonging to Mr Makhakhe. The gun is said to have been used in the commission of a robbery at an unspecified date in Mafeteng. Mr Makhakhe was also arrested and tortured at the same Mabote station.

Adv Mafaesa was only released after another prominent lawyer, Kabelo Letuka, filed an urgent habeas corpus application for his release.

Adv Mafaesa this week refused to comment on his own ordeal saying he would speak when the time is right.

And after his own experience, Adv Mafaesa, told the Lesotho Times this week that there was no sincerity among the police command in dealing with errant officers. He said there was also no political will to bring culprits to book.

That Commissioner Molibeli said investigations had been launched into the killing of the teenager was just a routine statement repeated every time police officers had a case to answer, he said.

“It is just a symbolic gesture by the police for them to appear as if they are acting against any crime which may have been reported against police officers.

“Officers implicated in the commission of crimes are often just transferred to other police stations and that would be the end of their cases. The only time action is taken against police officers is when the police command has differences with the police officer who has committed a crime. The police management will then prosecute such a crime to get rid of that officer. Other than that, the perpetrators are always protected.

“We deal with a lot of cases of police brutality some of which result in suspects being killed by the police and you will find the Commissioner opposing such cases in court. This means that he would be denying that his officers would have committed a crime.

“A typical example is a Mafeteng case in which a suspect was tortured by the police until he died earlier this year. The family successfully got an inquest to order that the implicated police officers be charged but the Commissioner has refused to have them charged. However, it is not every family which has financial muscle to pursue these cases and ensure they are prosecuted in court.

“The problem we have is that the police are the ones who investigate and take the cases for prosecution. If only there was an independent body which could prosecute rogue police officers, then these issues could be addressed. At the moment, neither the Commissioner nor the minister is willing to act against rogue police officers. We are banking on the reforms to bring a solution to this problem,” said Adv Mafaesa.

Balesang Mohlehli, Ngaka’s grandfather, said he just received a call from a neighbour on Saturday morning notifying him that his grandson had been shot dead.

“It was said that the police were chasing a suspect but when they lost him, they ended up shooting Ngaka. When I arrived at the scene, I found him lying in a pool of blood with a bullet wound just behind his left ear.

“My grandson had just completed his high school studies and had passed with good grades. He was now preparing to go to university, but he has now been killed,” Mr Mohlehli lamented.

The killing was especially devastating for the family given that the deceased’s father also died two months ago.

“Two months ago, we were burying his father and now it is him. This is really painful, and we hope to see justice prevailing. The responsible police officer must be taken to task and face the wrath of the law,” Mr Mohlehli said.

Dr Majoro said the government was disappointed by the killing.

“We are very sorry about the young man’s killing. Like Ntate Molibeli has said, we are admitting this mistake. It is very sad to lose such a young person.

“The police’s job is to serve and protect the nation and that is what we are always emphasizing in our meetings with their leadership, so this is disappointing. However, like the Commissioner said, this case will be investigated,” Dr Majoro said.

On his part, Mr Sekola also said his ministry was worried about the rogue behaviour of police officers. He would thus do everything in his power to bring the culprits to book.

He also said the government would take care of the funeral expenses while the deceased’s 15-year-old younger sister would be offered a place at the Police Training College on completion of her high school studies.

“The government will take care of the funeral costs. Once the deceased’s sister completes her high school, we have agreed with the Commissioner that she should be enrolled into the police force if she chooses to,” Mr Sekola said.

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