LAST week we carried a disturbing story about six men who are suing Police Commissioner ‘Malejaka Letooane for torture.
The six allege in court papers that they were brutally tortured by the police at Pitseng Police Station last April.
Three men are claiming M90 000 each for injuries suffered during the torture, emotional suffering and wrongful detention.
The other three are demanding amounts ranging between M100 000 and M140 000.
Those suing the police boss are Boiketlo Mapota, Lehlohonolo Kali, Lebakeng Selise, Molahlehi Mphou, Thapelo Morothetsane and Rets’elisitsoe Moshoeshoe.
They were accused of assaulting and robbing one Mosiuoa during a beer drink at a local pub in Leribe.
The men allege they were brutally tortured. These are quite serious allegations.
The case has serious implications for the rule of law and the administration of justice in Lesotho.
We are aware that the matter is still before the courts of law.
It would therefore be inappropriate for us to pass a direct judgment on the matter.
However, we are extremely concerned by reports of the police harassing suspects whilst in the course of discharging their duties.
We have carried several stories in the past few months of the police abusing suspects in their custody.
Suspects are only suspects until they are convicted by a competent court of law.
It would therefore be inappropriate for the police to beat up and torture suspects in their custody.
Understandably the police deal with hard-core criminals every day.
The temptation to use force is therefore always there.
In most African countries the police are part of the state apparatus of repression. They are often a law unto themselves.
We have seen how the police beat up protesters and opposition supporters for daring to take to the streets.
Instead of maintaining peace and security the police are generally seen in repressive regimes as an instrument of repression.
Those at the receiving end of their brutality are left with no recourse in the courts of law. Such a scenario is undesirable in a democratic society.
The abuse of state power is not unique to Africa.
We have seen how the mighty and powerful have abused their positions in their treatment of terror suspects at Abu Ghraib prison.
More cases of abuse have been reported elsewhere.
The abuse of power is therefore a world-wide problem.
Torture, as a method of extracting information, has been with us since medieval times.
We have seen nations use torture as a method of coercion to extract vital information from suspects. Some governments also use torture to induce a confession.
This is a violation of international statutes.
The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984 has outlawed the use of torture.
The charter has been ratified by 145 nations.
The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights has also outlawed torture. The Geneva Convention has also explicitly prohibited torture.
There is an ongoing debate in academic circles whether torture is permissible in certain extreme circumstances.
But the general thrust of the debate is tilting towards a complete ban of torture as a policing instrument.
We endorse such an approach.
In fact, we think torture is never permissible under whatever circumstances. We agree with the school of thought that advocates a complete ban of the use of torture.
We think it is undesirable and an anachronism in this 21st century.
But it is one thing to have the law and another to practise what the law says.
We look forward to the day when state security agencies in Africa move away from using torture as a means to extract information or confessions from suspects.
The police in Leribe must face the music if it is proved in court that they indeed tortured the six men.
We are confident that the law has provisions to deal with delinquent officers.