Molibeli slapped with M1, 5 million lawsuits

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Mohalenyane Phakela

TWO “torture” victims have filed separate lawsuits for a combined M1, 5 million against Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli.

The “victims” are Lejone Mepha of Leribe and Zibi Nkonyana of Maseru. They allege that they were tortured by police while being interrogated in separate incidents.

Mepha and Nkonyana are now demanding M1 million and M500 000 respectively from Commissioner Molibeli.

Commissioner Molibeli and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa are the defendants in the two applications.

Mr Mepha’s M1 million is broken down as follows: M200 000 for unlawful arrest and detention, M200 000 for torture whilst in detention, M200 000 for pain and suffering, M200 000 for contumelia and M200 000 for past, present and future medical expenses.

“Around June 2021, the plaintiff reported himself at ‘Mamathe Police Post where he was interrogated about some missing cattle which belonged to one Lejone Ramoea,” Mr Mepha states in his court papers.

“The plaintiff denied any knowledge of Mr Ramoea’s cattle. He was informed by the police that the truth will be extracted out of him. The plaintiff was ordered to lie on a wooden bench and was then tied with a rope to the bench.  He was made to wear a leather glove which covered his head and face. The plaintiff was then assaulted by three police officers with fighting sticks while another police officer made sure that the leather glove was not removed from the plaintiff’s head.

“The torture and assault began in the morning and ended in the evening when plaintiff, who could then not walk as a result, was carried and deposited into a police van. The journey proceeded from Ha-‘Mamathe to the plaintiff’s home in Ha-Lejone. His home was searched and no firearm was found although the plaintiff, as a result of the torture, had implicated himself that he owned an illegal firearm. He was then taken to Berea Police Station where he was kept in a holding cell.

“The next day, the plaintiff was taken to Peka Police Station where he was once again tortured and assaulted by one police officer, ‘Mota, who forced him to admit that he had stolen the cattle. The torture and assault continued from Friday until Monday when the plaintiff was released.”

Mr Mepha also claims that he was forced to hand over his three cows to Mr Ramoea as compensation for the cattle he allegedly stole from the latter.

“The plaintiff demands the said cattle and their progeny from Mr Ramoea. He pleads that his arrest and detention were unlawful and violated his constitutional rights. He pleads that torture and assault are likewise unlawful. He holds the first respondent (Molibeli) vicariously liable for the acts of the police who were acting in the course and scope of their official duties as police officers,” Mr Mepha states.

On the other hand, Mr Nkonyana is demanding M500 000 for the torture he allegedly suffered at the hands of the Semonkong Police on 17 September 2021.

“While the plaintiff was in detention thereat, the Semonkong police officers wrongfully assaulted the plaintiff with knobkerries, fighting sticks and further suffocated the plaintiff.

“As a result of the wrongful and unlawful detention and assault by the police officers of Semonkong, the plaintiff suffered damages in the amount of M500 000 for which the first defendant is held vicariously liable,” Mr Ramoea states. He does not say why he was detained in the first place.

As if that is not enough, a third person, Kelebone Ntsane, is claiming M89 000 as compensation for his sheep and goats that allegedly died in police custody.

Mr Ntsane, from Makeneng, Butha-Buthe, alleges that the livestock were confiscated by police officers on 29 September 2020. However, he does not say why they were confiscated.

All in all, Mr Ntsane alleges that the police officers “unlawfully” seized 87 sheep, 46 goats, 14 cattle and six donkeys.

“As a result of the unlawful seizure, 50 sheep and nine goats died. The total value of the sheep and goats which died is M89 000 and the respondents are liable,” Mr Ntsane states in his court papers.

The lawsuits are simply the latest in the long line of damages that have been filed against the police since Commissioner Molibeli was appointed in 2017.

The police appear to have lost their way after a promising start by Commissioner Molibeli. Shortly after his appointment, the police boss raised the nation’s hopes of good days ahead when he solved the ‘mysterious disappearance’ of the late Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng. Commissioner Molibeli also caused the arrest of treason and murder-accused former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, in 2017.

But since then, everything has gone south with the police being accused of grave human rights violations under his watch.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has even voiced concerns over the “persistent allegations of police brutality” in Lesotho. The ACHPR’s plea to the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations has so far fallen on deaf ears.

Under Commissioner Molibeli’s watch, the High Court and Court of Appeal have also granted the highest known damages awards to torture victims.

In May this year, the Court of Appeal awarded a massive M250 000 to a Mafeteng man, Tšolo Tjela, who was tortured and humiliated by police officers in 2015.

The apex court had no kinds words for the police who it slammed for “turning the country into a lawless state” through the torture of suspects.

Mr Tjela had initially been awarded a whooping M400 090 by Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane who heard his application against the police in November 2020.

Besides awarding M400 090 damages- the biggest single award to a torture victim in recent years- Justice Sakoane also tore into former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane for his reckless utterances while in office inciting police to torture civilians and engage in other gross human rights violations.

In the most damning indictment of a then sitting prime minister, Justice Sakoane said through his reckless utterances, Mr Thabane had incited the police and other security agencies to subject civilians to “state-sponsored violence” in violation of constitutional provisions guaranteeing their freedom from cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment.

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