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Police accused of torturing govt worker

by Lesotho Times
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’Marafaele Mohloboli

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 suspect, Mohau Lebajoa, yesterday appeared before the Magistrate court over the leaking of the government gazette. Senior Resident Magistrate Phethise Motanyane released Lebajoa on bail. He advised Lebajoa to adhere to the bail conditions which include appearing in court for remands and refraining from interfering with witnesses.

Lebajoa is accused of contravening Section 4 subsection 1 (a) of official Secrets Act No. 36 of 1967 in that he prematurely leaked a government gazette which was due for publication. He is accused of leaking the gazette to Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane Percy Bereng, an officer at the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS).

The leaked government gazette was 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.

The government gazette, which was never made public, stated that Justice Mokgoro had been appointed to the post of acting president of the Court of Appeal on 27 February this year. Justice Mokgoro did not assume the position after the Thomas Thabane administration decided to appoint Justice Hlajoane instead. The appointment of Justice Hlajoane was nullified after a constitutional court challenge by three prominent lawyers.

The three lawyers Zwelakhe Mda, Karabo Mohau and Qhalehang Letsika successfully argued in March this year that the appointment of Justice Hlajoane violates the constitution because she was appointed when the government had already appointed Justice Mokgoro to the same position on 27 February this year.

Dr Thabane and his lawyers have argued that the three lawyers should be prosecuted on the grounds that they had based their case on a government gazette that had been illegally obtained as it was never officially published.

PM Thabane wants the three lawyers charged for violating the Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act. He also accused the trio of being a dangerous group of people who sought to destabilise the country by illegally acquiring and using confidential state documents.

It was against the background of investigations into the leaking of the government gazette that Asst-Supt Bereng and Mohau Lebajoa who works at the government printers were recently called in by the police for questioning.

Asst-Supt Bereng subsequently fled from the police headquarters while awaiting his turn to be questioned. He alleged that he had fled in fear of being tortured after seeing that Mr Lebajoa had been tortured by police during his interrogation.

Last Wednesday Lebajoa was detained by the police for questioning. He was released on the next day after his lawyer, Advocate Qhalehang Letsika, filed an urgent application for his release.

According to the court papers filed for Lebajoa’s release, his brother Retšelisitsoe Lebajoa said that he (Mohau Lebajoa) was tortured by the police during his interrogation.

“I rely on the documents that are in my personal possession and under my direct control in my capacity as the managing director of the applicant (Mohau Lebajoa),” Retšelisitsoe states in the papers on behalf of his brother.

“The applicant has made it clear in the founding affidavit that he has been tortured and subjected to inhumane and degrading punishment.

“I do not know the finer details but all I know is that he (Mohau Lebajoa) informed me that the police indicated that they suspected him to have leaked and released the gazette without authorisation given that he works at the Government Printers.

“He (Mohau Lebajoa) told me that he informed the police that at the time the gazette was printed at the Government Printers he was in hospital in Bloemfontein, South Africa. I confirm that at the time of the alleged leakage of the gazette he was hospitalised at Tšepong Hospital where he was later referred to another hospital in Bloemfontein,” Retšelisitsoe stated.

Lebajoa’s brother said that it was important to note that his brother was still nursing an operation which was made on his left ear and “he informed me that the operation affected his brain with the result that when it is cold it becomes extremely painful and excruciating”.

The court papers state that on 1 August, Lebajoa was called to the police for interrogation at about midday and he left his mobile phone with his brother (Retšelisitsoe) to recharge it.

“At around 5pm I received a message from my supervisor that a certain police officer named Nkeane had requested me to deliver the applicant’s (Lebajoa) phone.

“I (Retšelisitsoe) in the papers went to police headquarters and upon arrival I was ordered to exhibit all my phones and the applicant was ordered to pinpoint and identify his phone. He complied and thereafter I was ordered to leave.

Retšelisitsoe said that about 6pm he tried in vain to call his brother as his calls were initially rejected. Later the phone was no longer reachable.

He said he then went to his brother’s residence to check if he had been released from police custody only to be told by a neighbour that he (Mohau Lebajoa) had been there with some police officers before leaving again.

“I concluded that he (Mohau) was under arrest and I decided I would go and see him the next morning.”

Retšelisitsoe says he indeed went to see Mohau the next morning and found him eating food which was different from that which had been prescribed by his medical doctor.

“Immediately after eating he collapsed,” Retšelisitsoe, adding that he took him to Katlehong Filter Clinic where he was examined by a medical doctor.

“He (Mohau) told me that he was exhausted because he had been subjected to all sorts of torture the whole night.”

Retšelisitsoe said the doctor said Mohau should be immediately released from police custody.

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