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Rights body chides PM for torture comments

by Lesotho Times
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Mohalenyane Phakela

HUMAN rights body, Development for Peace Education (DPE), has chided Prime Minister Thomas Thabane for his recent comments supporting the torture of criminal suspects.

The body said it also wants the government to denounce the police over rampant brutality and take extreme measures on the perpetrators.

The DPE’s peace education researcher, Thaabe ‘Moso, told the Lesotho Times this week that they were concerned over the escalating cases of civilians being tortured — others to death — while in police custody or rather shooting to kill civilians during the police’s operations.

Dr Thabane recently told supporters of his All Basotho Convention (ABC) at a Masianokeng rally that criminal should be “pinched”.

“I urge them (thieves) to stop stealing forth-with,” Dr Thabane said at the rally.

“I am going to make it a point that anyone who steals from others faces the repercussions. Any Mosotho man who steals from another shall be pinched with tongs in his most sensitive areas and that shall not be done by me but by those who know how to do that. I declare curfew against any form of theft.”

And this week Mr ‘Moso said that Dr Thabane was wrong to have supported the torture of suspects.

“Police brutality has always been in existence but the problem now is having our Prime Minister who is aware of such brutality but continues to publicly make statements to perpetuate such behaviour,” Mr ‘Muso said.

“He cannot make such statements in this fragile environment. The government needs to stand up and address the issue.”

Mr ‘Muso said that they are worried by the government’s reluctance to act against police officers who have been implicated in the torture and deaths of civilians in the hands of the police.

“We have noted with great concern the ongoing police brutality and sadly the government, especially the minister of police and the commissioner of police, whom we greatly expect to act on the concerned officers.

“As much as we try to follow up on some cases to ensure that they are taken to court, some remain unattended to because they would be out of our scope. The other reason for which these brutalities continue to escalate is because the police officers protect each other. One would rather be transferred to another area and continue to work as if nothing has happened rather than face the consequences of his actions.

“The police complaints unit only makes recommendations on cases regarding police officers which means they are not binding.

“It is time we see less talk but action to strengthen the police complaints unit to have powers to take matters to court. We do not have to wait for reforms to stop brutality but action by government. The army has shown the way so we are expecting the commissioner of police to follow suit,” Mr ‘Moso said.

Contacted for comment, Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli, rubbished the allegations saying the police take brutality issues seriously up to prosecution.

“It is my sole responsibility to ensure that we keep a clean image of the police force. Our duty is to protect the people and not hurt them. We investigate cases where people are tortured while in police custody and take legal action on officers who are found on the wrong side of the law. There are several cases where officers have been before the caught.

“Officers who are being investigated are transferred to other areas to move them from where they offended people while their cases are being addressed. It is not to protect such officers but to allow smooth processes.

“We are not quiet about this issue and last week I was on radio to talk about police brutality which is a great concern to us. There is no law that gives us power to judge but to protect the basic human rights,” Compol Molibeli said.

Government spokesperson Nthakeng Selinyane also rubbished Mr ‘Muso assertions and said Dr Thabane was referring to violent criminals in his Masianokeng speech and had also not issued an official directive for suspects to be tortured.

“That is nonsensical because the PM was explicitly speaking about suspects of violent crimes and his was never a formal directive but political rhetoric…everyone knows that,” Mr Selinyane said.

The police have been under fire for torturing suspects to extract confessions, a practice that has led to deaths and litigations for the force.

Earlier this year, the Minister of Police, retired Senior Superintendent ‘Mampho Mokhele, admitted publicly that the police uses illegal methods including torture to extract confessions from suspects.

The Minister of Police, retired Senior Superintendent ‘Mampho Mokhele, made the revelation at a ceremony where the LMPS was presented with forensic equipment which was donated by the Algerian government.

Speaking at the same occasion, Ms Mokhele who served as a police officer for 37 years, admitted that the police sometimes resorted to torture in order to extract information from suspects.

She however, 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.

Two 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 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.

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.

At the time, Mr 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.

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