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PM demands ministerial action on police brutality

by Lesotho Times
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Nthatuoa Koeshe

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane has condemned police brutality and ordered the Minister of Police, ‘Mampho Mokhele, to furnish him with a report of how the ministry has dealt with cases of police officers suspected of human rights violations.

Dr Thabane said this at the recent official opening of a police station at the Letšeng village in Mokhotlong. The station was built by diamond miner, Letšeng Diamonds, as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative.

Speaking at the ceremony, Dr Thabane said it was unacceptable that some police officers continued to tarnish the image of the force through acts of brutality against civilians.

“I condemn in the strongest terms possible the brutality perpetrated against innocent men and women by some members of the police and I demand full criminal accountability with respect to such officers,” Dr Thabane said.

“The government will not tolerate criminality within the law enforcement agencies.

“I have requested the ministry of police to provide me with the reports of the crimes committed by police officers and how those cases were handled,” he said adding that the report would be made public.

“In the same vein, and within the context of the comprehensive national reforms, I have directed the Minister of Police (Ms Mokhele) to come up with a comprehensive strategy that will ensure that police brutality ceases with immediate effect.”

He said the strategy should include, among other things, capacity building of police in various fields such as forensics, criminal investigations and sensitivity to human rights issues in the course of police work.

On his part, Letšeng Diamonds chief executive officer, Kelebone Leisanyane, said his company was happy to contribute to effective policing by building and handing over the station to the police. He said they would continue to find other ways of giving back to their host community of Mokhotlong.

Speaking at the same ceremony, the Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli, promised the police would use the new station to assist Basotho “with love and respect and not ridicule.”

Dr Thabane has previously been criticised for statements seen in some quarters as inciting or condoning the heavy-handedness of the police towards criminal suspects.

Last November, the premier reacted to the criticism by ordering Ms Mokhele and Commissioner Molibeli to “do the right thing” by investigating the deaths of suspects in police custody.

Dr Thabane said this in the wake of the October 2018 pledge by the government to investigate the deaths of suspects at the hands of the police.

In the National Reforms Declaration signed with the opposition last October, the government undertook to “investigate and report to the coalition of opposition parties in due course” the circumstances surrounding the deaths of several people in police custody.

Foreign Affairs and International Affairs Minister Lesego Makgothi also said the government was not deaf to the public outcry over the alleged police brutality and it would soon conduct inquests into the alleged civilian deaths and thereafter deal with the “rogue elements within our police service”.

“As government we are committed to ensuring that the civilians are protected and safe and the all police officers who have been fingered in the listed killings should toe the line,” Mr Makgothi said.

He said there was now a trend of police officers who took the law into their own hands. He said instead of taking suspects to the courts of law to stand trial, such police officers tortured suspects until they died.

“This (torturing of suspects) is unacceptable and we are going to deal with such officers. We will not allow them to bring the name of the government into disrepute.

“It’s wrong for our people to think that we are quiet over these (alleged civilian) deaths (at the hands of the police). We will act on these deaths because they are unwarranted.

Early last year, Ms Mokhele torched a storm when he publicly admitted that the police used illegal methods including torture to extract confessions from suspects.

Ms Mokhele, who served as a police officer for 37 years, made the revelation at a ceremony where the LMPS was presented with forensic equipment donated by the Algerian government.

She said she hoped the donation would go a long way in removing the need for torture as the police could now use it to determine whether or not a suspect had been involved in the commission of a crime.

“We, as the police, are often forced to use violence to get information out of people because at times we would be sure that the suspect committed the crime but due to lack of tangible evidence we have to use force,” Ms Mokhele said.

Three months ago, a Government Printers employee was allegedly tortured by the police after his arrest in connection with the leaking of a government gazette which announced the appointment of South African judge Justice Yvonne Mokgoro as acting president of the Court of Appeal.

The leaked government gazette was allegedly used by three prominent lawyers as the basis for their successful March 2018 lawsuit against the appointment of Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane as the acting Court of Appeal President.

A recent African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) report seen by this publication expresses concern over the “persistent allegations of police brutality” in Lesotho and called on the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations.

“The government should incorporate the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in all its actions as well as in the legal, policy and institutional reforms which would be initiated as a result of the ongoing national dialogue,” the ACHPR report states.

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