POLICE brutality has and continues to be a thorny issue in Lesotho.
No less an authority than the African Union (AU) has spoken out against the scourge and pleaded with the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations.
International development partners like the United States and the European Union have all condemned the torture of suspects by the police, saying torture is strictly prohibited in war situations, let alone in a democracy like Lesotho.
Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane, the Law Society of Lesotho and human rights organisations like the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) have also added their voices to the choruses of condemnation of police brutality.
A few weeks before his November 2020 appointment as chief justice, Judge Sakoane awarded a whooping M400 090 to a Mafeteng man, Tšolo Tjela, who was tortured by police officers in 2015.
Justice Sakoane’s judgment was largely upheld by the appeal court, save for the reduction in the quantum of the damages awarded to Mr Tjela from M400 090 to M250 000.
But despite the universal condemnation of police brutality, the scourge continues with the latest victims being prominent human rights lawyer, Napo Mafaesa, and his client, Liteboho Makhakhe.
Adv Mafaesa was abducted on 11 January 2022 and severely tortured by members of the police Special Operations Unit (SOU).
He was arrested at his Hopolang Building offices in Maseru and briefly detained at the nearby police headquarters before being moved to Mabote Police Station where he was tortured.
He was arrested on allegations of concealing a gun belonging to Mr Makhakhe. Incidentally, Mr Makhakhe is said to be a police officer.
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, Police and Public Safety Minister Lepota Sekola and Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli have not uttered a word in the aftermath of the torture of Adv Mafaesa and Mr Makhakhe. This despite that police brutality is endemic and has tainted the country’s human rights record amid threats from international development partners to withdraw crucial development assistance if the scourge is not dealt with.
Over the course of the week, the Lesotho Times Senior Reporter, ’Marafaele Mohloboli, took to the streets of Maseru to find out the ordinary people’s views on police brutality and what they think ought to be done to stop the scourge. Below are some of the views:
Our police force is very incompetent. They appear demotivated and incapable of properly investigating crimes hence they take out their frustrations on suspects who they routinely torture.
The prime minister and police commissioner have been conspicuous by their silence. They have rarely uttered a word on these things. They have tried to give the impression of doing something whenever there has been a public outcry over police brutality. But there has never been anything tangible on the ground as suspects continue to be tortured and some have even died at the hands of the police.
I therefore think that individual officers should be sued, together with the prime minister and the commissioner over police brutality. The rogue officers should also be fired from the force.
The behaviour of the police when investigating cases and dealing with suspects leaves a lot to be desired. It’s as if the police are taught nothing else but cruelty and disrespect for other human beings. They are heartless and they have lost the plot. These days when one sees a police officer, they are not sure whether to wait and hear what they have to say or run away.
The prime minister is equally to blame for not saying a word on these torture cases of civilians even though he has the powers to act against the violations through his minister (of Police and Public Safety Lepota Sekola) and the (police) commissioner (Holomo Molibeli). They should all be sued.
These days it has become so difficult to work hand in hand with the police. You can’t even give them a (crime) tip because they will swiftly act on that to torture people instead of fully investigating the matter. They have even killed people instead of properly investigating cases.
A police officer who tortures or kills a suspect should be sued alongside the commissioner. The commissioner hardly says anything or probes his officers whenever they are accused of human rights violations.
You can arrest an individual but that does not necessarily mean that they are guilty of a crime. Yet these people are still subjected to torture. Torture is unacceptable because it deprives people of their dignity and even life. The minute police torture and even kill suspects, all public confidence in the police force is lost. We no longer feel a sense of safety and security due to the police’s behaviour.
The rogue officers must be sued in their individual capacities and made to pay from their own pockets. They should also be sued alongside the prime minister and police commissioner because they haven’t done anything about police brutality. They don’t even have accurate data of the number of people who have been killed by the police.
It is not right for police to be killing people who have been apprehended as suspects. It is absolutely wrong because torturing people only leads to them making confessions which cannot be accepted as evidence in the courts of law.
Police who torture and kill suspects should be sued in their individual capacities because they continue committing these barbaric acts while hiding behind the veil of the police service as an institution. The damages awards should not be paid from our taxes. These police officers should pay from their own pockets because they would have committed the offences as individuals.
The training that the police are given is quite questionable given the way they torture and kill suspects in their custody. They need to be called to order because it’s not always the case that suspects are guilty of the crimes they are accused of. Even if they were guilty, that wouldn’t be a licence to torture them. Everyone should be treated with respect and dignity on the basis that they are human beings.
A police officer who tortures or kills suspects in custody should be fired from work and charged for the crime.