Lesotho: Govt Must Act Now Against Police Brutality - Analysts

Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro (file photo).
15 September 2020

A FORTNIGHT ago, one person was allegedly tortured to death by police in Mafeteng. Three other cases of police brutality were reported in different parts of the country that same period.

The incidents occurred shortly after the Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu had announced that the government had tasked ministers 'Mamoipone Senauoane (Police and Public Safety) and Prince Maliehe (Defence and National Security) to investigate allegations of police brutality. Their findings would determine if a broader commission of inquiry was necessary, Mr Mokhothu said.

But this has not deterred rogue police officers from continuing their reign of terror against civilians.

If anything, analysts say the latest developments show that instead of declining, police brutality against civilians is actually increasing despite government efforts to end the scourge.

The analysts have thus urged the government to do more including identifying and prosecuting perpetrators.

They warn that failure to decisively deal with police brutality will erode public confidence in the force. It will also earn the country the unenviable tag of a repressive police state which wilfully violates the key tenets of democracy including respect for human rights and the rule of law.

The analysts further warn of far-reaching repercussions including the loss of development assistance vital for economic growth.

Police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, has since confirmed the death of the suspect after torture by police in Mafeteng two weeks ago.

He promised to give a comprehensive statement on the issue once the police had completed investigations into the matter.

Apart from the Mafeteng incident, three other cases of police brutality were reported in other parts of the country.

One such incident was captured on video by a Butha-Buthe woman.

In the video that has since gone viral on social media, a man who had been arrested for allegedly violating traffic regulations is seen in handcuffs and being assaulted by police officers.

The man can be seen writhing in pain on the ground while a police officer stands over him.

A woman is heard shouting at the police and beseeching them to stop torturing the suspect.

"This is not right," the woman shouts, adding, "you cannot continue doing this to people. I am going to report this".

The police appear to ignore the victim's pain and the woman's appeal to stop torturing the suspect.

In another case, a Quthing man, Seabata Mohlabula, has become bedridden in hospital after he was allegedly tortured by police officers to force him to confess to stealing money.

Mr Mohlabula said he and his friend were summoned to the Quthing police post and threatened with death if they did not "cooperate with the police".

The cases are merely the latest in the long line of incidents that have tainted the image of the police force under the command of Commissioner Holomo Molibeli.

Commissioner Molibeli assumed the reins in August 2017. Despite getting off to a good start with the arrests of suspects in the 2016 murder of Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng and the arraignment of former army commander Tlali Kamoli for murder and other human rights violations, Commissioner Molibeli appears to have gone off the rails.

Some of the worst cases of brutality against citizens have been recorded under his watch.

Last year, Lesotho and the world reacted with shock and horror to reports that the police tortured Kabelo Ratia until he soiled himself then forced him to eat his own faeces.

Mr Ratia had been arrested for allegedly stealing M30 000 from a local businessman. During his detention Mr Ratia was allegedly subjected to horrendous torture and forced to implicate others in the alleged theft of the businessman's money.

Widespread condemnations of police brutality have so far failed to stem the tide of their illegal behaviour.

"If anything, the police under Molibeli's watch are giving the middle finger to the nation and anyone complaining about their rogue behaviour," said an analyst, Lebohang Sello.

"It is good that the government has announced measures to deal with the scourge of police brutality.

"Deputy Prime Minister Mokhothu says the police and defence ministers have been tasked to deal with the issue but the proof of pudding is in the eating. We will only celebrate when we see the results. Ntate (former Prime Minister Thomas) Thabane also said the same thing last year when his government came under intense pressure for failing to deal with police brutality.

"He (Thabane) claimed that that he had tasked then police minister 'Mampho Mokhele and Commissioner Molibeli to probe allegations of police brutality and furnish him with a report.

"He even told fellow SADC leaders that at least 30 police officers would be tried in the courts for brutality against suspects but nothing ever came out of all that. So, we will only believe when we see the results," Mr Sello said.

National University of Lesotho (NUL) political science lecturer, Tlohang Letsie, concurred saying government efforts were inadequate and much more needed to be done urgently to deal with the scourge of police brutality.

Dr Letsie said as a democracy, Lesotho's individual rights and freedoms are provided for in the constitution "but the actions of the police are not in line with the rule of law and this does not reflect well on the police in the eyes of the people".

"So much has been said about police brutality for some years now by the government and some political parties but very little has been done to address the problem. Mr Mokhothu's Democratic Congress (DC) even compiled a list of 70 victims of police brutality when it was still in opposition.

"But up to now, there hasn't been a significant number of police officers who have been arrested and charged. It is therefore easy to conclude that the government is not doing enough.

"I am aware that the government has established an inter-ministerial committee to deal with this issue as well as the infighting between the police commissioner and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service Staff Association (LEPOSA).

"But we are in a crisis and these efforts have to be speeded up. We urgently need results to restore sanity to the police force," Dr Letsie said.

Another analyst, Arthur Majara, said police brutality had become a huge concern that even LEPOSA had joined the calls for decisive action against the scourge.

LEPOSA has laid the blame at Commissioner Molibeli's door. It has even petitioned Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro to fire him over the issue.

"The fact that they (LEPOSA) are looking to have the issue addressed shows that they are also aware of the rot among themselves. They are also aware that nothing is being done," said Dr Majara.

"The government may have set up an inter-ministerial committee but it is not moving fast enough to deal with police brutality.

"It is documented that 76 suspects have been tortured in police custody but up to now this matter has not been addressed by the police minister (Senauoane).

"This despite that the minister has the powers to deal with rogue officers as she is in charge of the overall administration of the force."

Another NUL lecturer Mahao Mahao said it was "mindboggling" that cases of police brutality were far higher in a small country like Lesotho than in larger countries like South Africa where there were often massive street protests and demonstrations where police could easily abuse citizens.

He said the high incidences of police brutality in Lesotho were probably due to lack of professionalism and bad training methods which resulted in suspects being tortured into making "confessions".

"It could also be due to low morale and absolute indifference by the authorities who choose not to hold rogue police officers to account for their actions.

"Rogue officers must be suspended and pay their own legal fees without the assistance of the government.

"Until the government robustly deals with killer police officers and others who torture suspects, this issue will never go away.

"The government must act decisively to ensure public and international confidence in our systems and law enforcement agencies," Dr Mahao said.

Mr Sello concurred. He said, "without decisive measures to address the issue of police brutality, the problem will fester and it will ultimately be impossible to speak of Lesotho as a democracy".

"We run the risk of becoming a repressive police state which doesn't respect the rule of law and uphold the rights of citizens in line with democratic principles.

"The African Union (AU) has complained about police brutality in Lesotho. SADC has complained, the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) government have all complained. Consistently ignoring such complaints could result in us being ostracised and becoming a pariah state. More significantly we could lose development assistance from international development partners," Mr Sello said.

He is right that the scourge of police brutality has attracted international criticism. Last year the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) produced a damning report expressing concern over the "persistent allegations of police brutality" in Lesotho.

Its plea to the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations has so far fallen on deaf ears.

More worryingly the United States government has also warned that it could freeze development assistance to Lesotho if the government did not rein in rogue police officers.

We certainly do not need to first lose out on crucial development assistance for the government to act.

As pointed out by the analysts, the government must therefore move with speed to address the problem. Rogue officers do not have to wait until after the establishment of a commission of inquiry to account for their actions. The normal court processes should apply. The culprits should be identified, arrested and tried in court without further delay.

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