Letsoela’s woes mount

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. . . as three more soldiers file M10, 9 million damages claim against army boss

Mohalenyane Phakela

LESOTHO Defence Force (LDF) commander, Mojalefa Letsoela, has been slapped with three fresh lawsuits for a combined total of M10, 9 million damages. The claims are by three more soldiers who were allegedly subjected to unlawful arrest and torture in 2015.

The three are Thoriso Mareka, Seabata Chaka and Motlatsi Mokhobo. Their ranks are not given in the three separate applications they filed this week in the High Court. The trio are demanding a whooping M10 950 000 as damages for the unlawful arrests, detention and torture they allegedly suffered at the hands of their colleagues including the late Captain Tefo Hashatsi and Major Bulane Sechele.

Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Letsoela is already facing another staggering M57 million lawsuit from other serving and former soldiers for their alleged torture and unlawful arrests by fellow soldiers in 2014.

The soldiers allege that they were subjected to torture and degrading treatment by their army colleagues during and after the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

Lt-Gen Letsoela is only being sued in his capacity as army commander for the atrocities which were allegedly committed by soldiers then under the command of former LDF chief, Tlali Kamoli.

Lt-Gen Letsoela and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa are the first and second respondents respectively in the applications.

Mareka is demanding a total of M5 110 000, Chaka wants M2 930 000 and Mokhobo wants M2 910 000.

Mareka’s claim is broken down as follows: M2, 4 million for unlawful arrest and detention, M180 000 for medical expenses, 580 000 for contumelia, M750 000 for pain and suffering, M300 000 for malicious prosecution before the Court Martial and M900 000 for travelling expenses.

“The plaintiff was arrested by his juniors, the late Captain Hashatsi, Retired Colonel (Thato) Phaila and some agents or employees of the Lesotho Defence Force on or around 5 June 2015,” Mareka states in his application.

“They handed him over to the LDF personnel who in turn took him to Setibing Military Base for what they styled as ‘interviews’ and or ‘investigations’.

“The plaintiff was brutally assaulted and tortured by the officers of the LDF at Setibing and he could not see them as he has a sight problem. He was interrogated about his relationship with the late (LDF) commander, Lt-Gen (Maaparankoe) Mahao, and the freezing of a loan facility for the soldiers by the management of the LDF.”

Mareka states that his wife subsequently filed a High Court application to compel the LDF to produce him dead or alive. The application was duly granted by the now retired Justice Teboho Moiloa, who ordered that he be placed under open arrest, on 1 July 2015. He further alleges that the then LDF command delayed to release him as they initially questioned the authenticity of Justice Moiloa’s order.

“In view of the attitude they displayed towards the court order, this suggests the military then had a blank cheque to do whatever it wished with detained soldiers. The plaintiff maintains that his original arrest was illegal. He had been abducted and captured for the reasons which motivated his wife to launch the habeas corpus proceedings (to compel the army to produce him dead or alive).

“The plaintiff maintains that he had been taken into military custody unlawfully and he had been charged for mutiny maliciously. The plaintiff maintains that the torture he endured at Setibing and the defamation he suffered due to the charge of mutiny where the LDF had failed to furnish him with the remand warrant and signed written reports in reports in respect of allegations which led to his imprisonment were antithetical to the rule of law and due process.

“As a result of the unacceptable treatment by his juniors and the torture, the plaintiff has suffered damages in the sums categorised (totalling M5 110 000) for which he holds the defendants liable to pay,” Mareka states.

Chaka’s M2 930 000 claim is broken down as follows: M2 million for unlawful arrest and detention, M200 000 for hospitalisation, M180 000 for contumelia, M250 000 for pain and suffering, payment of M300 000.

He also alleges he was arrested on 1 June 2015 and taken to Setibing Military Base where he was tortured by his fellow colleagues.

“This group (of soldiers) tortured the plaintiff by assaulting him and in the scope of their assignment to torture him brutally. They told him that ‘he must know that Setibing was a hell’. They forced him to confess to the crime of mutiny which the plaintiff did not know about and when he failed to do so they continued to attack him in turns with hard objects. This has resulted in his permanent disability as he thereafter had to undergo a hip replacement operation.

“The unshakable duty of these LDF officers to inflict pain continued even after they had been ordered to produce the body of the plaintiff in the habeas corpus proceedings. They were so indifferent to the required need of the plaintiff to undergo the hip operation until they were compelled by the order of this court to allow him to be operated. Notwithstanding that, the living and health conditions of prison were not conducive to his ailment.

“The actions and decisions of the subordinates of the first defendant (army commander) were unlawful and wrong. The defendants remain jointly and severally liable. The plaintiff avers that the decisions to place him under close arrest and prosecute him before the Court Martial had no merit. The jurisdictional facts for the imposition of a closed arrest were absent; hence he contends that he must be compensated,” Chaka states in his court papers.

Mokhobo’s M2 910 000 claim is broken down as follows: M2 million for unlawful arrest and detention, M180 000 for hospital expenses, M180 000 for contumelia, M250 000 for pain and suffering and M300 000 for general damages. He claims he was arrested at Ha Ratjomose Barracks on 17 May 2015 and also taken to Setibing Military Base.

“The arresting team handed over the plaintiff to another callous LDF group that consisted of Captain Makoae, Major Sechele and Lieutenant Colonel Mochesane and Sergeant Ramoepane on 18 May 2015. This group had been assigned to torture the plaintiff at Setibing Military Base and kicked his testicles, suffocated him with a tube and caused him to roll in the water.

“The above-mentioned LDF officers and their colleagues assaulted and insulted the plaintiff and during the course of this ordeal, told him that he was going to die and they were going to sleep with his wife. These atrocities were carried out to elicit confessions and incriminating evidence meant to connect the plaintiff with an imaginary mutiny plot.

“The plaintiff would be tortured by being beaten up, drowned in the cold water and be made to dry himself by sitting on a hot corrugated iron sheet. This took two days of serious torture and the plaintiff’s wife launched the habeas corpus proceedings which served before the now retired Justice Semapo Peete. It was in response to the orders of this court that the plaintiff was brought before court in a very bad shape. This court ordered that he be taken to doctors and be attended to urgently as private parts of his anatomy had clearly been rendered dysfunctional owing to the tortures he suffered. He routinely attends to medical treatment.

“The plaintiff avers that the investigations into the alleged mutiny plot could have been conducted without torture and death threats. He was placed in closed arrest and solitary confinement only to be acquitted after some years of suffering in 2017. He avers that the LDF command exercised undue influence on the prosecuting authority to conjure up spurious charges against him before the Court Martial in a covert campaign such that he could be considered a fascist and mutineer. The verdict of acquittals talks to the malicious prosecution and unlawful arrest and detention,” Mokhobo states.

The trio’s damages claim follow those of six other soldiers who are demanding a combined M57 million from Lt-Gen Letsoela for the same alleged unlawful arrests and torture during the Kamoli era.

Of the six, Lieutenant Colonel Mojalefa Mosakeng, Sergeant Selebalo Sejake Sergeant Lintle Rantuba and Corporal Sello Lefoka are demanding M11 million each.

Corporal Litšitso Mahase is demanding M7 million while Corporal Lehlohonolo Bolofo wants M6 350 000.

Save for Corporal Lefoka, the six soldiers are among 16 plaintiffs who originally filed the M32 million lawsuit against Lt-Gen Letsoela this June on the same grounds of torture and unlawful arrest.

However, 12 of the 16 plaintiffs, who are still serving soldiers, were subsequently suspended from the army to pave way for a Board of Inquiry to probe them for mutiny in connection with the lawsuit.

Lt-Gen Letsoela set up by the Board of Inquiry to probe what he saw as mutinous behaviour after the soldiers teamed up with their retired colleagues to sue him for the damages over their 2014 ordeal. Lt-Gen Letsoela characterises the soldiers’ decision to sue him as amounting to a mutiny.

All these civil claims are still pending before the High Court.

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