Journalists were threatened and harassed. Two police officers were killed in circumstances suggesting extrajudicial execution. There were allegations of torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects by police. One prisoner was sentenced to death. There were no executions.
(This report covered the period January-December 1997)
A power struggle between two factions of the ruling Basotholand Congress Party (BCP) culminated on 7 June in Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle and his supporters splitting from the BCP.
The resulting breakaway Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) formed a new government, retaining Ntsu Mokhehle as Prime Minister. The remaining LCD members of parliament disputed the constitutionality of their opponents’ action, but de facto became the minority party in parliament.
On 16 February a police mutiny in support of nine colleagues facing arrest in connection with the fatal shootings in Maseru Central Police Station in 1995 was suppressed when the government deployed the army. Scores of police officers were arrested. Most were released without charge.
To mark the coronation of King Letsie III in October, 387 prisoners were released under a royal pardon.
Some journalists covering political developments were publicly criticized by officials and subjected to other forms of harassment by members of the security forces.
They included Candi Ramainoane, editor-in-chief of the privately owned Sesotho-language newspaper MoAfrika, Khutliso Sekoati of Mopheme and Christopher Shale of Mleletsi oa Basotho.
In September, armed police enforced a two-week ban on coverage of parliamentary proceedings.
Sergeant Monyatsi Senekane one of the nine police officers wanted in connection with the Maseru Central Police Station shootings � and another police officer were killed in circumstances suggesting they may have been extra judicially executed.
Sergeant Senekane was shot dead on the night of 15 February by soldiers who reportedly ambushed his vehicle in a Maseru suburb. Earlier, on 31 January, Trooper Nthako, reportedly a sympathizer of the nine, had been shot dead at his home by unknown assailants.
The outcome of any investigations into the circumstances surrounding these deaths was not known by the end of the year.
In June the brother of Sergeant Senekane, army private Mokitimi Senekane, and police sergeant Thabo Tsukulu were charged with treason, in connection with an alleged petition calling upon the King to resolve conflict between the police and the army and obtain the release of the police mutineers.
In the weeks preceding his arrest, Mokitimi Senekane had been pressing the police authorities for information concerning the death of his brother. In December Attorney Haae Phoofolo, the lawyer representing the two accused, was arrested and charged with conspiring with his clients to commit treason.
He was later released on bail. There was concern that the charges against Attorney Phoofolo might be politically motivated, aimed at hampering the defence of Mokitimi Senekane, Thabo Tsukulu and other police officers whom he was representing. No trial date had been set by the end of the year.
Thirty-three police officers were scheduled to be tried in February 1998 on charges relating to the mutiny. By the end of the year, six of the accused, whose imminent arrests had provoked the mutiny, had still not been furnished with details of the charges against them nor committed for trial in relation to the 1995 killings.
Allegations of the torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects persisted. In one incident in the middle of the year, Leabua Thaabe, who was mistakenly identified as a wanted suspect, was taken to Maseru police cells where police stripped him naked and subjected him to beatings and torture by suffocation. He was released when police realized that he had been wrongly arrested
Of four prisoners sentenced to death in 1996, two had their convictions overturned and two had their sentences reduced on appeal. One prisoner convicted of murder in August and sentenced to death was awaiting the outcome of his appeal at the end of the year. There were no executions.
Amnesty International made appeals on behalf of journalists subjected to harassment or threats. The organization also called for investigations into cases from previous years which remained unresolved, including those involving excessive and at times lethal use of force by police, and cases of torture and deaths in custody.