In this issue (Page 2 and 3) we carry a story about Ts’eliso Thatjane who claims to have been tortured by the police after he was arrested for alleged theft.
Thatjane claims the police beat him with a knobkerrie and suffocated him with a plastic bag until he lost consciousness, all in an effort to induce a confession.
He was detained for four days without trial and some police officers are alleged to have received a M500 bribe from his wife to release him.
Thatjane’s sad story might be shocking but it’s also too familiar.
Over the years we have covered stories of suspects brutally tortured in police custody.
There have been harrowing stories of police brutality against crime suspects.
Some have suffered permanent injuries while others have been left traumatised for life by their ordeal.
There are dozens of people suing the police force for torture.
The fortunate ones have won hundreds of thousands of maloti in damages in lawsuits.
We say “fortunate” because it cost money to hire a lawyer especially in our judiciary that take almost ages to finalise cases.
It would seem that our police force has learnt nothing from these embarrassing episodes because the use of force against suspects is still rampant in our police force.
Knobkerries, plastic bags, boots, fists and latex gloves are the instrument of choice among police officers who use torture.
Torture, it would seem, has become so institutionalised that our police officers now use it to avoid the rigours of proper investigations.
Instead of investigating crime they would rather take the easier route of beating a confession out of a suspect.
But history has shown that such tactics rarely work in a democratic society.
It is not surprising, therefore, that over the years the courts have dismissed evidence judged to have been extracted from suspects under duress.
Such tactics were used by the dictatorial regime of the Basotho National Party and the military junta before the democratic dispensation in 1993.
And when democracy came these medieval practices seem to have remained a cog in our police force’s modus operandi.
It is gutting to note that neither the senior authorities in the police nor the responsible government officials have taken a hard stance against the use of torture in the police force.
The problem, we believe, is that our police officers lack proper and effective investigation skills. Their lack of appreciation of basic human rights issues is glaring.
Add this to the fact that they are generally considered to be a corrupt lot and you understand why the general public has lost faith in our police force.
How many times have you heard people say they don’t give tip offs to the police because they are afraid they might be considered suspects?
The reality is that our fight against crime is going nowhere if our police force remains unprofessional.
For as long as our police force continues to torture suspects we — the tax payers — will continue pay to compensate their victims.
The police force will continue to be alienated from the community it claims to be serving.
In the end it is the law-abiding citizen, the very victim of crime, who suffers.
The powers-that-be must take urgent measures to clean up the force.
This clean up must start with educating our officers about human rights.
We cannot overemphasise the importance of investigative skills.
A police force ignorant of basic human rights issues and investigation skills is a danger to the society it seeks to serve.
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