Police brutality: Lesotho’s elephant in the room

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Staff Reporters

 

LESOTHO’S human rights record and in particular the issue of police brutality has been under local and international spotlight in recent years. Back in 2018, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) produced a damning report expressing concern over the “persistent allegations of police brutality” in Lesotho. Its 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.

Even the Lesotho Mounted Police Service Staff Association (LEPOSA) accused Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli of failing to deal decisively with the issue of police brutality. The militant police union unsuccessfully petitioned Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro to fire him over this and several other issues.

The United States government has also on several occasions warned that it could freeze development assistance to Lesotho if the government does not rein in rogue police officers and deal with police brutality.

But despite the universal chorus of condemnations, the police have continued with their criminal behaviour, indiscriminately torturing people- from high profile people such as legislators, former ministers and most recently, prominent human rights lawyer, Napo Mafaesa. The torture of Advocate Mafaesa, three weeks ago, is merely the latest in the long line of such acts of brutality by the police against citizens.

In this article, the Lesotho Times digs into its archives to highlight some of the worst cases of police brutality, beginning with the alleged tortures of high-profile victims:

Judge Mahase’s son allegedly tortured by police, December 2017

Former acting chief justice and current senior High Court judge, ‘Maseforo Mahase’s family accused the police of torturing their then 22-year-old son, Teboho. The latter had been detained by police on allegations of stealing M3 million worth of pensioners’ allowances at a pay-point in Mafeteng earlier in 2017.

Narrating his son’s alleged ordeal at the time, Justice Mahase’s husband, Thabiso Mahase, claimed that his son had his head covered with something he didn’t know, while the police were pouring water on his head. His feet were also shackled and all the while, he was also being shocked with electricity, Mr Mahase said.

He then said they would sue the police for the alleged torture. It remains unclear whether they made good on their threat. The criminal case pertaining to the alleged theft of the M3 million is yet to see the light of day in the courts.

Mokhosi allegedly tortured, urinates and defecates: August 2017

Barely two months after losing his job as Defence and National Security minister in the wake of the advent of the former Thomas Thabane-led administration, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) deputy leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi, sensationally accused the police of subjecting him to a horrifying torture ordeal.

Mr Mokhosi said the police had tortured him to force him to lie about the 2016 murder of Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng.

Narrating his ordeal at the time, Mr Mokhosi said, “following my arrest and detention, I was placed in a dark and stinging cell at police headquarters on 28 August 2017”.

“Starting from 18:00 hours or thereabout I was subjected to the most inhumane, barbaric, savage, traumatising, cruel and heartless treatment by police officers. I was ordered to undress and while naked, I was chained. My hands were put behind my back and handcuffed and my legs were handcuffed also.

“The police officer then put a plastic bag containing water over my face, they sat on my back with the result that I was not able to breath. It suffices to say that my breath was blocked and as a result I defecated and urinated, the police then ordered me to clean myself by washing with cold water.”

He alleged that different police officers took turns to torture him until midnight.

Mr Mokhosi further alleges that he was asked questions about PC Khetheng’s death and was thereafter told a “made up” story which he was supposed to present before the magistrate.

He said even when he cried out in pain, the police still continued torturing him in a bid to get him to implicate himself in PC Khetheng’s murder.

MP sues police for M2 million torture damages: July 2019

Movement for Economic Change (MEC) legislator, Thabo Ramatla, sued Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, Assistant Commissioner (ACP) Beleme Lebajoa and two members of the Police Special Investigations Unit for M2 million damages for the torture he was allegedly subjected to by the police in May 2019.

In the court application filed on his behalf by Advocate Zwelakhe Mda on 13 July 2019, Mr Ramatla, who was then an opposition MP before the MEC joined the current coalition in government, alleges that Inspectors Chabalala, Nkeane and two other officers tortured him on the night of 7 May 2019 after arresting him at his home in Mafeteng. He does not say why he was arrested by the police. Inspectors Chabalala and Nkeane’s first names are not stated in the court papers.

Inspectors Chabalala, Nkeane and the other unidentified officers are members of the Police Special Investigations Unit which is headed by ACP Lebajoa. Inspectors Chabalala, Nkeane, ACP Lebajoa, Commissioner Molibeli and the Attorney General are cited as 1st to 5th defendants respectively in the lawsuit. The case is pending before the High Court.

Litjobo claims police torture: April 2017

Current opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) spokesperson, Thuso Litjobo, accused the police of torture after he was arrested along with his bodyguard, Thato Makara, on allegations of murder.

Mr Litjobo and Mr Makara appeared before the magistrates’ court to face a murder charge for allegedly shooting to death AD member, Thabiso Moqolo, on 2 April 2017 at a party gathering to elect a candidate to contest elections in the Koro-Koro constituency. The murder case appears to have gone cold since then.

However, back in 2017, Mr Litjobo and Mr Makara accused the police of torturing them to force them to confess to committing the crime.

Man tortured, defecates, forced to eat own faeces: July 2019

In one of most bizarre and gruesome cases of police brutality, Kabelo Ratia, from Nazareth, was arrested by police and badly tortured to get him to confess to stealing M30 000 from an unnamed local businessman.

He was tortured to the point of soiling himself. He was then forced to eat his own faeces.

Narrating his experience to the Lesotho Times, he said, “I was arrested by four police officers who took me to the police station where they ordered me to strip down to my underwear.

“They made me lie on the floor. One of the police officers put his foot on my waist and covered my face with an empty fertiliser plastic bag. I felt I was suffocating as the officers hurled insults and demanded that I implicate myself in the alleged theft of the money,” Mr Ratia told this publication.

“I struggled to free myself and I got to a point where I felt I was dying. At that point they poured cold water on my face and told me to give them a signal by raising a finger whenever I was ready to talk. It is then that I soiled myself for the first time but the torture didn’t stop.

“I soiled myself a second time and they told me I would confess in the same manner as my (LCD) deputy leader Mr (Tšeliso) Mokhosi who was similarly tortured. They also told me they didn’t want to see any trace of filth and ordered me to eat up my own faeces.”

He said after four days of torture, he eventually caved in and implicated himself and other people in the theft of the M30 000.

Even after his release from detention, Mr Ratia said he had to abandon his home for a secret location in fear of the police officers who were allegedly vowing to deal with him for speaking out about his torture.

Man tortured, awarded biggest damages claim to date of M250 000: May 2021

Mafeteng man, Tšolo Tjela, was awarded a whooping M400 090 by Justice Sakoane Sakoane who heard his application against the police in November 2020 a few months before his elevation to his current position of chief justice.

In addition to awarding the massive M400 090 damages, Justice Sakoane lambasted 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.

Justice Sakoane said through his inflammatory remarks, 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.

Justice Sakoane’s judgment was largely upheld by the appeal court, save for the reduction in the quantum of damages to M250 000.

Septuagenarian sues police over son’s torture, death in police custody: August 2019

The then 71-year-old Motsoena Monare sued the police for M270 000 for “emotional pain and suffering” and “loss of earnings” stemming from the death of his son in police custody.

Mr Monare alleged that he had suffered a lot since the death of his son, Moepa Monare, in police custody in 2013.

His damages claim was broken down as follows: M100 000 for emotional pain and suffering, M100 000 for loss of earnings, M50 000 for burial expenses and M20 000 for legal fees.

The lawsuit was heard in 2018 by High Court Judge Tšeliso Monapathi and the verdict is still pending, four years later.

Security guard tortured, killed in police custody: September 2021

Tšeliso Sekonyela died last year after being severely tortured in police custody. A post-mortem report indicated that the deceased’s left leg was broken several times, his ribs were broken while his neck had some marks indicating that he had be strangled. The family said the report also indicated that the deceased suffered serious internal bleeding.

Mr Sekonyela, a BB Alert Company security officer, was arrested and detained at the Thetsane Police Station on 2 September 2021 after some alcohol had allegedly gone missing at an off-sale outlet he had been guarding.

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