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I won’t back down: Lehohla

Staff Reporter

MASERU — Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla (pictured right) says he will not back down on his bold claims to parliament that police have not tortured or brutalised people since 2007.

A fortnight ago Lehohla, who is also the home affairs minister, denied in parliament that there had been cases of police beating, torturing and brutalising suspects as well as innocent people.

However, evidence from the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and more than 40 lawsuits that individuals have filed against the police proves that Lehohla’s statement was false.

There are also some cases that police have lost after being sued for assault, torture and unlawful arrest by individuals.

Court rulings show that the police have been ordered to pay damages worth hundreds of thousands of maloti after losing numerous lawsuits.

Yet even this evidence does not seem to have persuaded Lehohla, who is also the leader of the august House, to withdraw his claims.

Instead, he told the Sunday Express in an interview last week that he stands by every word he told parliament.

“If I admit that people have been beaten I will be pleading guilty,” Lehohla said when asked whether he was prepared to take back his claims in the light of overwhelming evidence of police brutality detailed in last week’s issue of the Sunday Express.

He said he was not prepared to admit that police officers have tortured detainees “until they (police officers) have been proven guilty by the courts of law”.

In the meantime opposition leaders have condemned the deputy prime minister for what they said was a “deliberate attempt to mislead parliament and the nation”.

Sello Maphalla, the deputy leader of the Lesotho Workers Party, said he was “shocked that Ntate Lehohla could deny such obvious things that everyone knows”.

Maphalla is the one who posed the question about the alleged police brutality to Lehohla.

The deputy prime minister said his answer in parliament was based on information he got from the police.

“That was unfortunate,” Maphalla said in reference to Lehohla’s denials.

“Because I respect him as a politician I don’t want to say he was lying but would rather say his answers were not very close to the truth,” he added.

All Basotho Convention party leader, Thomas Thabane, said although police’s handling of suspects had improved it would be “foolish for anyone to claim that there are no cases of officers brutalising people”.

“It’s true that the police have become less brutal in recent years but for the deputy prime minister to say all of them are angels is a lie,” he said.

“There are cases where police officers have brutalised people. The cases are there in the courts. There are lawyers who are representing these victims.”

Prominent human rights lawyer Haae Phoofolo, who has a number of clients seeking damages against the police for assault, described Lehohla’s denial as “disturbing”.

“It’s not right for the deputy prime minister to make such statements when there are people who are already making claims against the police,” Phoofolo said.

Irked by Lehohla’s denials Maphalla said he was now gathering evidence to prove that the police have indeed assaulted and tortured people.

“I am worried about what might happen if the deputy prime minister’s claims are not challenged with hard evidence,” he said. 

So far he has talked to lawyers, gone through court records and talked to some victims. All indications, he said, were showing that “people have been brutalised by the police”.

He will present his findings when parliament resumes after the Easter break.

“I will confront him with the evidence and I don’t think he will insist on his initial claims.”

Lehohla said his ministry will take action against police officers if the courts of law find them guilty of torturing suspects.

“Appropriate action will be taken against police officers whom the courts have found guilty of torturing people and say: ‘you have exceeded your mandate’,” he added.

“The police complaints office has the records. The matters are in court and we will take action once the courts have given judgment.”

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