Mohalenyane Phakela / Moorosi Tsiane
POLICE brutality has reared its ugly head yet again. For the umpteenth time, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli is being sued, this time by a Mafeteng man who was allegedly tortured by police officers in September 2020.
The man, Thato Malibeng, has petitioned the High Court to grant him leave to file a lawsuit for damages from Commissioner Molibeli for the torture he allegedly suffered at the hands of the Mafeteng police officers. Mr Malibeng filed the application on 17 March 2022.
Commissioner Molibeli and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa are cited as respondents alongside police officers Lebajoa, Pomela, Mphanya, Bohloko, Monyake, ‘Mokose, Rakaki, Motsieloa and Inspector Molebo.
It is not clear whether the police officer referred to as Lebajoa in the application is the current Deputy Commissioner of Police, Beleme Lebajoa.
Mr Malibeng alleges that he was arrested and tortured by the police officers in September 2020 and was then released from their custody without being charged with any crime.
“On or about 15 September 2020, I was arrested by members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) in Mafeteng by police officers Lebajoa, Pomela, Mphanya, Bohloko, Monyake, ‘Mokose, Rakaki, Motsieloa and Inspector Molebo,” Mr Malibeng states in his application.
“I was detained from 15 to 16 September 2020 and released without any charge. While in custody, I was assaulted and tortured by the police officers mentioned above. I was suffocated with a blanket and electrocuted with jumper cables.
“This barbaric act was done repeatedly and as a result I lost consciousness several times. I was poured with water all over my body, especially towards my waist where I was wired with electrical cables to shock me.
“As a result of the torture meted against me, I suffered excruciating pain and continue to suffer even to the present day. I had to consult the doctors regarding my medical situation. I continue to experience terrible headaches and pain on my knees and feet after my torture.”
Mr Malibeng says he is a street vendor. He says even though the alleged torture occurred in 2020, he is only filing the application now because he had been hamstrung by the Covid-19 induced lockdowns which prevented him from operating his business to raise the necessary funds for his legal challenge.
“At all material times hereto, the police officers who arrested and tortured me were in the employment of the government as members of the LMPS and were at all such times acting within the scope and course of their employment as such.
“I had always been desirous to institute the claim but could not raise the legal fees on account of the following factors; after I was released from the Mafeteng Police Station, I approached the offices of Women’s Law Clinic for legal advice where I was advised to seek medical attention and report. (sic)
“I am self-employed. I cook and sell food, and I also have dependants. I had to raise funds for my legal representative, however, due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, I was unable to raise the stipulated funds on time. At the end of February this year, I finally managed to raise a portion of the legal fees. I approached the Women’s Law Clinic offices for assistance where I was told there was a need to approach the court and seek condonation.
“It is clear from the foregoing that my failure to institute my claim on time was neither due to wilful nor negligence on my part. I have good prospects of success in my claim for damages. The police tortured me unlawfully.
“I am craving this court’s indulgence to condone my default and grant me leave to institute my claim out of time in terms of section 77 of the Police Service Act,” Mr Malibeng states in his application.
After a commendable start to his tenure in 2017 which saw the cracking of some unsolved murder cases and the arrests of high-profile criminals like former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, the police have lost their way under Commissioner Molibeli’s watch.
They have frequently been accused of gross human rights violations and the police boss’ name has been a regular feature in numerous High Court applications by torture victims.
In October 2021, two civilians, Lejone Mepha of Leribe and Zibi Nkonyana of Maseru filed separate lawsuits demanding M1 million and M500 000 respectively from Commissioner Molibeli.
In July 2019, rogue officers allegedly tortured Nqosa Mahao of Ha Mabote, Maseru and Kabelo Ratia of Nazareth in the Maseru district. Mr Mahao was abducted from his Mabote home on 18 July 2019 on suspicion of hiding firearms on behalf of some rogue soldiers.
While several people have come forward with accusations, it is the alleged torture of Mr Ratia which has grabbed the headlines.
Mr Ratia alleged that he was tortured to the point where he soiled himself and was made to eat his own faeces.
He had been arrested for allegedly stealing M30 000 from a local businessman. During his detention Mr Ratia was allegedly subjected to horrendous torture and forced to implicate others including one Thabo Mei in the alleged theft of the businessman’s money. Mr Mei was hospitalised and eventually died of the injuries inflicted on him.
Earlier this year in January, prominent human rights lawyer, Napo Mafaesa, was abducted and severely tortured by members of the police special operations unit (SOU).
All this is happening despite widespread local and international appeals to Commissioner Molibeli and his officers to desist from torturing civilians and other human rights violations.
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.
The United States government and the European Union are also on record expressing their displeasure over the “recurrent reports of police brutality, in particular cases of torture and of the death of detainees in police custody”.
They have also implored the government to investigate and take disciplinary measures against rogue police officers implicated in the torture of civilians and other forms of human rights abuses. To date, no police officer has been charged for torturing civilians.