JUST when Lesotho is still fretting from revelations that 59 murder suspects were jailed within a space of nine days from 15 to 24 November 2021, the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) has another shocker. The figure is actual much higher.
A staggering 95 murder suspects have in fact been jailed in just under a month.
According to Bokang Ramotena, the LCS’ paralegal officer, so bad is the situation in the country’s correctional facilities that they were now overcrowded with murder suspects.
“From 1 to 26 November 2021, we received 95 murder suspects whom we have remanded in custody,” Sergeant Ramotena said yesterday.
“Due to the high number of persons remanded in custody to await trial, we are experiencing over population in the cells. We end up contacting magistrates to help us ease the number of inmates. That is when suspects are released under the Speedy Court Trials Act No. 9 of 2002 to relieve the population pressure in prisons.
“It is a challenge now that we are receiving more people who are awaiting trial and a few of them are making it to trial in time. So, this is making our facilities clog. Murder cases take long, some can go for as long as 20 years for different reasons better explained by the judiciary.”
Lesotho’s prison conditions have also been under international scrutiny in recent years.
Three years ago, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) also condemned the state of the country’s prisons, saying they are not compliant with international standards as there were “issues of overcrowding and unacceptable remand time with some inmates having spent more than seven years on remand”.
The ACHPR called on the government to immediately release all suspects who have exceeded the legal remand time and bring prison facilities and conditions up to acceptable international standards. This after visiting the country on a fact-finding mission from 8 to 12 October 2018.
But it appears the increase in murder cases could just worsen the situation.
From 1 to 26 November this year, the LCS incarcerated 35 murder suspects in Thaba Tseka, making it the most murderous district. It is followed by Maseru with 28 suspects in the same period. Leribe had a total of 13 murder suspects remanded in custody, followed by Butha Buthe and Mohale’s Hoek both with four. Mokholtlong had three and Qacha’s Nek had one.
While she could not give definitive answers regarding the reasons for the high murder cases, she said most of the suspects were linked to different violent gangs.
To help address the “epidemic of murders”, the LCS has designed educational programmes which it is providing in schools to teach learners to negate violence.
“There is a rise of gang activities even beyond Maseru, therefore our exercises are not only concentrated in Maseru. We have held campaigns in Mohale’s Hoek, teaching mostly young people the dangers of gangs to the society as well as the country,” Sergeant Ramotena said.
Gangs have wreaked so much havoc in Lesotho in the last few months that the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) has been forced to step in and launch an operation to arrest murderous gangsters who have been terrorising residents in Maseru and outlying areas. The LDF says it cannot fold its hands and watch people’s lives being endangered. It says it is not usurping police functions but it has had to come in to assist them to protect the nation.
Deputy army commander, Matela Matobakele, recently slammed the police for incompetence saying Lesotho did not have any police force worth talking about. Major General Matobakele said the army’s involvement in policing issues was therefore justified.
Earlier this year, the army organised a rehabilitation exercise which saw 74 youths graduating from the exercise. Unfortunately, one of the former gang members who underwent rehabilitation Leloko Lemaoane was brutally murdered by the Manomoro gang two weeks ago. The suspects have been apprehended and are before the courts.