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THE SINS OF POLICE LAID BARE

By Staff Writers

Maseru, Oct 22 (The Night’s Watch) – It has been almost 53 years since the Thaba Bosiu massacre of December 27, 1966 – only less than three months after Lesotho gained full independence from Britain.

On arrival at Thaba Bosiu on the fateful day, the police found thousands of people already assembled there, awaiting the arrival of King Moshoeshoe II.

The police ordered these people to disperse.

When they did not disperse, shots were fired.

Within a few minutes, ten people had been killed, and several others seriously wounded.

People scurried in all directions, “and thus what should have been a peaceful meeting ended in chaos, bloodshed and wanton killing”.

This is according to Lesotho 1970: An African Coup Under the Microscope, a book written by Makalo Khaketla who was then, one of the King’s Privy Councillors.

Five decades later, despite major changes along the way which include professionalization of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and change of legislation regulating and controlling the police service, Basotho still face the highest risk of being killed by police.

Findings from the 2018 Afrobarometer survey revealed that most Basotho are perturbed by police brutality which they perceive as a major problem in the country.

The survey found that a remarkable two-thirds of Basotho say police routinely abuse or torture people in their custody.

This was an increase of five percentage points from 2014.

The Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Shadow Report on Human Rights in Lesotho, published on Monday, documents latest incidences of use of excessive force by police on a significant number of people.

The report exposes brutality as a commonplace in the police service and reveals the gross lack of leadership and accountability that make it so.

It shows a pattern of tolerance for and tacit approval of unnecessary aggression.

“Amongst the many cases of police brutality is the cases of one Katiso who was assaulted at Police Head Quarters on suspicion of stealing from a security company in which he was employed,” the report reads.

It also lists a 2017 incidence in which “a group of young men from Koro-Koro were assaulted by police” on their way to the funeral.

The following morning, according to the report, one of them was found dead.

It reads: “His corpse was found lying at a nearby fields with a large wound on the head and his facial skin ripped off. A post-mortem report suggested that his face was ripped off in an attempt to remove a bullet from his skull.

“It is therefore suspected that he had been shot the previous night, allegedly by the police. Since then, no investigations and prosecution relating to his death have been made.”

The TRC report also reveals that on November 11, 2018, Mare Moqolo from Kolo in Mafeteng was attacked and tortured by police officers from Mofoka Police Station, leaving him severely injured.

“Case no. (Mofoka R.C.P. 11-11-18) was opened but nothing happened thereafter,” it reads.

It further reveals that on December 14, 2018, police officers from the police headquarters in Maseru, driving in two Land Cruisers, tortured Paul Letšella accusing him of “stopping his car in the road”.

It reads: “He was ordered to do push-ups while kicking and beating him with gun-butts. He was later taken to hospital where he underwent operation due to broken ribs, raptured intestines and testicles.”

The report also makes mention of the police violence that was on full display at Kao in Botha-Bothe during mass demonstrations by villagers in February 2018.

The villagers were demanding that Storm Mountain Diamonds Mine provide infrastructure, including roads and electricity to the mining affected community.

Storm Mountain Diamonds mine is located in Kao and there has been a longstanding dispute between the affected community and the mine since its establishment.

The police reacted to the demonstrations with force, shooting to death one of the villagers, Terene Pitae.

The report also talks about December last year raid where approximately 70 heavily armed, uniformed police invaded two villages in Botha-Bothe namely Lihloahloeng and Ha Shishila, resulting in the murder of one Poshoane Moloi.

“On 27 December 2018 the police raided the village of Ha Shishila and assaulted about 64 men of that village on allegations that one of them had fought with a police officer over a girlfriend at a public bar the previous day. One Poshoane Moloi who was a human rights defender was severely assaulted by the police with sticks and stones as a result of which he died,” it reads.

A common feature in the above and other similar cases, according to TRC, is that no investigations and criminal proceedings have been taken against the perpetrators.

Other incidents according to TRC include:

  • On 11 January 2019, one Sempe Molapo was assaulted by the police at his home and when his father and brother tried to intervene, they were also assaulted. Molapo was taken to the hospital by the same police and was pronounced dead on arrival.
  • On 16 February 2019, two men of Qacha’s Nek, Mongali and Sekhonyana were found dead in a police cell at Hlotse Police station. A post-mortem report suggested that they were suffocated to death.
  • On 18 July 2019, one Kabelo Ratia was arrested on suspicion of stealing M30 000 from a local business. He alleges that he was tortured to the point where he soiled himself and was made to eat his own faeces by those police officers.

The report reads: “TRC therefore calls on the Government of Lesotho to domesticate the African Charter through enactment of an anti-torture legislation and investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

TRC also called on government to provide redress including rehabilitation of victims of torture and members of their families.

In March last year Bokang Ramatšella submitted to Commissioner of Police (COMPOL) Holomo Molibeli a list of unresolved murders many of them allegedly implicating police – some more than 10 years after they were perpetrated.

Amongst them was a well-known incident of November 2003 in which police intercepted the 20,000 strong factory workers march, which was organised by the Factory Workers Union (FAWU), and opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas.

About five factory workers reportedly died while over 100 sustained injuries.

Ramatšella’s list also included the 2004 incident in which the country’s allegedly most notorious cattle thief Tekesele Shai commonly known as Makhoathi was shot and killed by police.

It also included less known incidents in which members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) were allegedly killed by police.

“Private Mokotoane was shot and killed by a policeman at Ha Leqele in Maseru in 2013, Sergeant Mahlala was shot and killed execution style by Teya-Teyaneng police at Kolonyama district in Leribe also in 2013 while Lance Corporal Matšela was shot and killed by a police officer in Thaba Tseka in 2014,” Ramatšella said. NW

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