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Lawyers sue Thabane, army and police chiefs

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR) has filed a Constitutional Court application to stop army commander Mojalefa Letsoela, police commissioner Holomo Molibeli and their subordinates from torturing ordinary citizens. They also want them stopped from subjecting ordinary citizens to any other forms of degrading and inhuman treatment.

This follows allegations that soldiers and police officers have been assaulting civilians accused of violating lockdown regulations requiring them to stay at home as part of efforts to fight the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The Constitutional Court will tomorrow give a date for the hearing of the case.

The LLHR is joined in the application by one Khabang Lesuhlo who alleges he was tortured by the police in Thaba Tseka. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, Police and Public Safety Minister Lehlohonolo Moramotse, Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Letsoela, police commissioner Molibeli, The Officer Commanding Thaba Tseka Police Station, Sergeant Thamae, one Sergeant Tsoinyane and Attorney General Haae Phoofolo are the first to ninth respondents respectively.

In their application, the LLHR and Mr Lesuhlo detail several cases wherein civilians were allegedly tortured by army and police officers during the lockdown. They argue that the incidents have been reported to the police but no action has been taken against the culprits.

The applicants want the court to order Mr Thabane to direct Lt-Gen Letsoela and Commissioner Molibeli to account for the brutality of their subordinates against civilians since the lockdown began on 30 March 2020. The lockdown is expected to end on Tuesday.

The applicants also want  Lt-Gen Letsoela, Commissioner Molibeli and their subordinates to “be interdicted and restrained from assaulting, torturing members of the public and subjecting them to any form of inhuman and degrading treatment”.

“That the third and fourth respondents (Lt-Gen Letsoela and Commissioner Molibeli respectively) and officers subordinate to them be directed not to deal with any member of the public found or suspected to be in breach of the Public Health (Covid-19) Regulations, 2020 in any manner other than by due process of the law.

“That the third respondent (Lt-Gen Letsoela) be directed to initiate criminal processes to exact accountability from all members of the LDF who assaulted or tortured members of the public before and after the passing of the Public Health (Covid-19) Regulations 2020. The said victims of human rights violations be appraised of the progress in the accountability process from time to time. That the fourth respondent (Commissioner Molibeli) and officers subordinate to him be directed to arrest and initiate criminal processes against all members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and LDF who assaulted or tortured members of the public … and deal with them according to the law…”

In his founding affidavit, LLHR president Advocate Zwelakhe Mda states that the Public Health (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 do not authorise the army and police to torture civilians.

“Indeed, there is no law that authorises members of the law enforcement agencies to take the law unto themselves…

“No sooner had the state of emergency and the said health regulations been passed, a chorus of complaints by the public about the brutality and savagery of members of the LMPS and LDF surfaced,” Adv Mda KC states.

The prominent lawyer lists several cases of human rights violations that were reported to the police but have allegedly not been dealt with.

Among these is the case of one Molefi Filoane who was allegedly tortured by police officers near Dion Butchery in Maseru on 30 March 2020.

There is also the case of Monnana Makepe who was allegedly assaulted by soldiers in Borokhoaneng, Maseru on 3 April 2020; one Thabang Mohlalise who was allegedly assaulted by soldiers at his home in Maseru and one Tsekiso Lepolesa who was shot by police on the right hand and left thigh in Ha Thamae, Maseru on 9 April 2020.

There is also the case of Malefetsane Mosuhli who was allegedly assaulted by soldiers in Qacha’s Nek; Mr Lesuhlo who was allegedly tortured by Sergeants Thamae and Tsoinyane in Thaba Tseka and one Fusi Nomo who died after allegedly being tortured and suffocated by Morija police on 25 April 2020.

Adv Mda also blames Mr Thabane for inciting police to violate the rights of citizens.

“Police brutality has always been a problem within the ranks of LMPS, (but) it was not officially sanctioned from the top. However, during 2017 after the first respondent (Mr Thabane) took office, on various occasions at a rally, in an interview with the national television and in parliament, he said the police should beat thieves and crime suspects. No doubt these statements had enormous impact on the psyche of police who were already prone to such excesses.

“There have been so many violations of suspects’ rights while in police custody throughout the country and some have resulted into deaths of suspects. The number of such homicides presently stands at 72 deaths.

“What is alarming and raises serious concern is that second and fourth respondents (Mr Moramotse and Commissioner Molibeli) have never addressed the issue of these gruesome murders and torture of suspects in custody. Sadly, it remains business as usual in the LMPS under the command of the fourth respondent.

“It is clear from conduct complained of that some members of LMPS and LDF do not acknowledge their obligation to uphold the rule of law. Neither have the third and fourth respondents (Lt-Gen Letsoela and Commissioner Molibeli respectively) demonstrated the will to hold their members accountable.

“It is the duty of the government to protect all citizens whether detained or not against any violations of their human rights as enshrined in the constitution… It is clear from the foregoing that the government has not acquitted itself well in this respect,” Adv Mda states.

 

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