Soldiers kill police officer
- brutally torture five civilians
- victims demand M24 compensation from army
ARMY brutality has reared its ugly head once again. This after four soldiers allegedly tortured a police officer and five civilians in Mohale’s Hoek just over a week ago.
The officer, Police Constable (PC) Relebohile Mokone, succumbed to the torture injuries last Monday. His family is now demanding a whooping M12 million in damages from Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Mojalefa Letsoela.
Five civilians, including four Pakistanis and a Mosotho, are lucky to be alive after being subjected to a similarly horrifying ordeal by the four soldiers alongside PC Mokoena in Mohale’s Hoek on 10 October 2021. The five are Wilim Ashraf, Moozzam Khan, Shakeer Amir, Asnan Asif and Tumisile Moletsane.
The five are also not taking their alleged barbaric treatment lying down. They have demanded M2, 5 million damages each from Lt-Gen Letsoela. Should all these claims succeed, the army would be forced to cough up M24, 5 million in damages to the victims, an unprecedented quantum of compensation.
The country appears to be witnessing an upsurge of alleged incidents of army brutality which had been commonplace during the tenure of former army boss, Tlali Kamoli, before he was ousted in December 2016.
The army had seemingly turned over a new leaf and had appeared more professional and civilian-friendly after Lt-Gen Letsoela’s appointment in 2018.
Police Spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli confirmed PC Mokone’s death. He said the police officer and the five civilians were allegedly tortured by the soldiers who suspected them of smuggling wool into neighbouring South Africa.
PC Mokone’s family and the five have since engaged prominent lawyer, Napo Mafaesa, to represent them in their quest for compensation from the army.
Writing to Lt-Gen Letsoela and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa on behalf of the Mokone family this week, Advocate Mafaesa states that, “we are acting on the instructions from the clients to demand from you, as we hereby do, the immediate payment of the sum of M12 million as damages for unlawful killing of Relebohile Vitalis Mokone”.
“(The) clients instruct us that Relebohile Vitalis Mokone was subjected to prolonged inhuman, debasing and or subduing treatment by members of Lesotho Defence Force who tortured him until he died.
“At all material times, Private Mokati, Private Ntaitsana, Private Perekisi and Private Seliane were acting within the Lesotho Defence Force. The commander and the LDF are vicariously liable for unlawful escapades of the soldiers aforesaid.
“Kindly remit the stipulated sum to our chambers within a period of 30 days of receipt hereof, failing which our instructions are to institute proceedings against you, enforcing our clients’ rights before the High Court without further notice,” Adv Mafaesa states.
He also wrote to Lt-Gen Letsoela and Adv Motsieloa on behalf of the five civilians who are also demanding M2, 5 million each for the injuries they allegedly sustained after being tortured by the four soldiers.
“We act on the instructions of Wilim Ashraf Moozzam Khan, Shakeer Amir, Asnan Asif and Tumisile Moletsane. We are instructed by the clients to demand from you, as we hereby do, the immediate payment of the sum of M2, 5 million as damages to each of our clients.
“(The) clients instruct us that they were subjected to barbaric and prolonged inhuman, debasing and or subduing treatment by members of the Lesotho Defence Force who tortured them for a continuing period of more than two hours and one Relebohile Vitalis Mokone was murdered in the process. At all material times, Private Mokati, Private Ntaitsana, Private Perekisi Private Seliane were acting within the scope of their employment as members of the Lesotho Defence Force.
“The commander and LDF are vicariously liable for the unlawful escapades of the soldiers. Kindly remit the stipulated sum in our chambers within a period of 30 days of receipt hereto, failing which our instruction is to institute proceedings against you, enforcing our clients’ rights before the High Court without further notice,” Adv Mafaesa states.
Senior Supt Mopeli said PC Mokone had died from injuries after he was allegedly clobbered by the four soldiers.
“It is true that PC Mokone is dead,” Senior Supt Mopeli told the Lesotho Times this week.
“It is said that he was tortured by the soldiers. According to preliminary investigations, the army had a roadblock in Mohale’s Hoek on that night when they stopped two cars on suspicion that they were illegally transporting wool to South Africa.
“Later on, PC Mokone arrived at the roadblock driving a Mazda Demio with a man from the village. They were stopped and allegedly beaten by the army officers. The initial report that we got from the army was that he (Mokone) was part of the group in the two other cars and he ran away from the army. I am not aware if any arrests have been made,” Senior Supt Mopeli added.
Other authoritative police sources also confirmed that PC Mokone and the five civilians had been stopped by the soldiers on suspicion that they were smuggling wool into South Africa via the Makhaleng Border Gate in Mohale’s Hoek.
“They were then assaulted by the soldiers. At all material times, the soldiers in question never sought any explanation from PC Mokone despite identifying him as a police officer. They even confiscated his gun.
“After brutally beating him and the civilians, they attempted to hand him over to the Mafeteng Police Station. However, the police officers who were on duty that (Sunday 10 October) evening refused to take him into their custody as he was seriously injured. They demanded that he be taken to hospital,” a police source said.
Another police source said that a postmortem report showed that PC Mokone had died after sustaining broken ribs from the torture by the four soldiers.
Meanwhile, the LDF’s public relations affairs officer, Captain Sakeng Lekola, yesterday said he could neither confirm nor deny that the late PC Mokone and the five civilians had been tortured by his army colleagues.
“I cannot say whether they were tortured or not. Since it is now a disputed matter, those responsible for investigating are the ones who should come out and say what actually happened. What I can confirm though is that we had an operation and we prevented a crime from being committed,” Captain Lekola told the Lesotho Times.
He said the army had a “primary role” of guarding the country’s borders and its assets.
“As part of our primary role, we have the responsibility of protecting Lesotho’s borders by ensuring that there is no trespassing. As part of that responsibility to protect Lesotho borders, we recently had an intelligence-led operation to stop people from illegally transporting wool outside the country.
“This was after we had received an intelligence report that some people were taking advantage of the porous borders to smuggle wool out of the country. This was going to be done through the porous border in Liphiring, Mohale’s Hoek. Soldiers rushed there to prevent a crime. We did not even know the status of the suspects when we conducted the operation, we only saw people who were going to illegally transport wool through porous borders,” Captain Lekola said.
He said six people were arrested during the operation.
“Those people were handed over to the Mohale’s Hoek police along with their assets, namely, a Mazda vehicle and a truck that had 14 bales of wool. We only learnt after the operation that one of them was a police officer.
“We did not know that he is a police officer but even if he was one, we will not fold our arms and allow a crime to be committed at the borders. The most important thing is that we prevented a crime. We didn’t even know the status of the suspects but we only know that we prevented criminals from illegally transporting wool outside the country,” Captain Lekola said.
An analyst who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue said the brutal torture of PC Mokone and his ‘accomplices’ “points to the grave risk of having soldiers taking over policing duties”.
“Only last week, the deputy army commander (Major General Matela Matobakele) said the army had taken on policing duties because there was no police force to talk about in the country. While many people have applauded the army for stepping in to fill the void created by police ineptitude in fighting crime, there is always the risk of human rights violations such as these because the soldiers are not trained to operate as police officers. We have already seen this when soldiers were accused of torturing civilians for allegedly violating lockdown regulations in various parts of the country. There is also the risk of renewed army-police conflict as the army ventures into police territory.
“Lt-Gen Letsoela and his command mean well but they cannot and should not be a substitute for an incompetent police force. The Prime Minister (Moeketsi Majoro) should act now to compel the police to perform their duties. He should fire the police chief (Holomo Molibeli) and appoint someone who is up to the task,” the analyst said.