Shooting striking students uncalled for

IT was June 4, 1989.

About 100 000 students massed together at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

They had been there for weeks.

Their demands were simple — greater political reforms for Chinese citizens.

But this demand had unnerved the authorities in Beijing.

After weeks of a tense stand-off the authorities panicked and unleashed tanks on the students. 

The crackdown was vicious.

Thousands of pro-democracy marchers are said to have died in the crackdown.

The number of the dead will probably never be known.

But various reports have put the figure at close to 3 000.

The Chinese government appeared to have been completely caught unawares by the protest.

Critics say the use of the military to crush the students’ protests was heavy-handed.

They also charge the level of force was completely disproportionate to the challenge at hand.

What happened at Tiananmen Square 21 years ago remains a blot on the Chinese government’s CV.

Not that the Chinese government seems to give a hoot about human rights.

The government has an abysmal record on human rights.

Beijing today stands accused of propping up repressive regimes in Africa and elsewhere.

It continues to turn a blind eye on human rights abuses in Africa under its doctrine of non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states.

But for students across the world, the events at Tiananmen Square remain a major reference point in their struggles.

Students have played and continue to play a pivotal role in dismantling repressive regimes.

I was reminded about Tiananmen Square after watching the violent drama that took place at Limkokwing University in Maseru this week.

The shambolic manner in which the police handled the students’ protests at Limkokwing clearly proves we have a serious problem within our law enforcement agency.

Reports say at least seven people, who include two security guards, were shot and seriously injured during violent protests that rocked the campus.

It is still not clear if the police used live ammunition during the crackdown.

But the manner in which the students were shot raises serious questions about our policing methods.

Anywhere else in the world, the police chief who authorised the crazy operation would have resigned in shame.

The crackdown on students was admittedly badly executed.

We need to put this latest shooting in context.

Wasn’t it only a year ago when another student was shot and killed at the National University of Lesotho?

Matseliso Thulo, a 30-year-old first-year student, paid the ultimate price when she was shot and killed during a students’ protest at the Roma campus.

What a waste!

An autopsy report confirmed that Matseliso had died of wounds inflicted by pellets, the ammunition used by the police to disperse the students.

Her killers were never found.

Another student, Refiloe Mohono, survived the shooting but has to live with three pellets lodged in her body after doctors concluded it was too risky to extract them.

But we seem not to learn from our past mistakes.

We also seem to have a band of trigger-happy police officers on the loose.

They must be reined in.

It is not as if the police were confronted by violent thugs at the campus.

These were only excitable students who were throwing stones.

Yes they did assault people and damaged property.

But there surely could have been better ways of dealing with such riotous students.

These are after all our children.

Unless the government undertakes massive retraining of the police, with respect for human rights being a core subject of the new police curricula, we will continue to see trigger-happy officers unleashing misery on citizens.

Apartheid-style policing tactics should have no room in a modern, democratic Lesotho.

We cannot allow gun-toting police officers to enforce order  and break the law in the same stride.

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