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Maseru prison shocker!!!

  • prisoners starved; 20 inmates crammed into a single cell
  • tuberculosis and other diseases said to be “rampant”.

Mohalenyane Phakela

LESOTHO’S jails are back in the spotlight amid revelations by some murder-accused soldiers that Maseru prisoners are not given adequate food and as many as 20 of them are forced to share a single tiny cell.

The country’s prisons have previously been condemned by the African Union. They have even been the subject of a documentary on some of the world’s toughest prisons which was released less than two months ago on Netflix.

Two detained soldiers, Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi have now added their voices to the choruses of condemnation of the country’s prisons.

They said there was no running water in the Maseru prison and they were forced to bath in buckets of ice-cold water as there were no geysers at the correctional facility. They said three prisoners were made to share a blanket thus exposing them to killer diseases such as Tuberculosis.

The duo makes the claims in their ultimately unsuccessful application for discharge from the Maseru remand prison where they have been detained since their arrest in 2017. Lance Corporal Motsieloa is awaiting trial for the 30 August 2014 murder of Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko.

Corporal Ramoholi faces charges of murdering former army commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao.

The duo had applied to be released from remand prison on the grounds that Section 109A of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (2002) which requires suspects accused of serious crimes to justify why they should be granted bail violates their constitutional right to liberty.

Section 4 (1b) of the constitution states that “every person in Lesotho is entitled… to the right to personal liberty”.

However, their application was dismissed on Friday by the Constitutional Court bench of Justices Keketso Moahloli and Polo Banyane who ruled that there was nothing unconstitutional about the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.

But the judges advised the duo to raise their concerns about the degrading and inhuman prison conditions when their murder trials get underway.

Reading out the judgement on Friday, Justice Banyane, said, “It is declared that section 109A of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act 10 of 2002 is not unconstitutional”.

“The applicants may consider raising the claims of inhabitable poor conditions at Maseru Central Prison in the trial court,” Justice Banyane said.

Although they lost their case, Lance Corporal Motsieloa and Corporal Ramoholi’s court papers provide an insight into the grim conditions in local prisons which have been described as some of the worst in the world.

Less than two months ago, the Maseru prison was featured in a Netflix documentary titled “Inside the world’s toughest prisons”.

An introduction to the documentary states that “Netflix docuseries Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons has returned to the platform with its fourth season, which sees host and falsely convicted ex-prisoner Raphael Rowe explore four more dangerous detention centres”.

“Over the past few series, Rowe has visited ruthless jails in Papua New Guinea, Ukraine, Columbia, Costa Rica and the Philippines, as well as rehabilitation centres in Belize and Norway. But what about the slammers of season four?

“Here’s everything you need to know about the toughest prisons explored in the docuseries’ fourth season:

“Maseru prison is an impoverished detention centre, filled with inmates doing time for rape. Many are HIV positive and sexual assaults are a way of life inside the prison.

“One of the things that’s striking me is the level of poverty. This is quite a crazy bit of space, it’s a bit like a bombsite. It’s like rubble everywhere. Bricks piled up,” Rowe says of the Maseru prison.

It is not clear when Rowe actually visited Maseru prison for the documentary.

His claims have now been backed up by Lance Corporal Motsieloa and Corporal Ramoholi who argued for their release on the grounds that the prison was unfit for human habitation.

“The holding cells at Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) are overcrowded, unhygienic and filthy. A cell sometimes is flooded with 20 plus inmates and during the night when nature calls, detainees help themselves in the presence of others.

“Furthermore, they keep their food parcels under the same conditions. A mattress meant for one individual is shared by three people and blankets are scarce. Ticks are very dominant in the cells,” Lance Corporal Motsieloa stated in his court papers.

He said as a result of the congestion and unhygienic conditions, diseases were prevalent in the prison.

“Tuberculosis and abscess diseases are rampant in the prison. One does not get medical assistance constantly as appointments have to be made first and sometimes one waits for a week to see a doctor.

“Medication is very limited at Lesotho Correctional Service health clinic. I must state that my request to visit a doctor was declined after I complained that I have ran out of prescribed medication.

“We are forced to use 20 litre buckets to bath with cold water as there are no geysers. The toilets do not have running water and we have to collect water before we are locked up at 3PM. The water does not sustain occupants of a single cell until the following morning.”

Lance Corporal Motsieloa also complained bitterly about the poor diet at the correctional facility.

“There is food scarcity and since our arrival at LCS the only food we know of is pap, beans and cabbage with some porridge in the morning.  We are given very little to eat and the reason given is that government` does not have an adequate budget for inmates’ food. Sometimes when the food supply runs out, we have nothing to eat.”

Lance Corporal Motsieloa argued that although the food scarcity, squalid conditions and exposure to disease qualified as exceptional circumstances warranting their release on bail, the High Court had however, refused to entertain their application for release.

Lance Corporal Motsieloa also argued that his release on bail would enable him to undergo surgery in Bloemfontein for an undisclosed illness.

However, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane disputed Lance Corporal Motsieloa and Corporal Ramoholi’s arguments that there were special circumstances which warranted their release on bail.

She said the duo should remain locked up for their own safety and because they were a flight risk.

“It is for their own safety and that of the witnesses that they (Motsieloa and Ramoholi) must remain in custody pending finalisation of their criminal trials.

“The applicants must remain in custody because of the risk they pose to national security. Some of their co-accused have already skipped the country to avoid prosecution and the applicants are likely to abscond trial if released on bail.

“The alleged scarcity of food at the Maseru Central Correctional Facility is not an ‘exceptional circumstance’ that warrants release of applicants on bail.

“I confirm that the health of inmates is the priority of LCS. I have verified with its management that every inmate is allowed to consult medical doctors as and when it is required.

“It does not appear clearly from the evidence of the deponent that he (Motsieloa) reported his alleged health problems to prison authorities in an identifiable manner because health professionals at the prison might have weighed the risk and potential danger the deponent is exposed to if not taken to Bloemfontein,” DPP Motinyane argued in her court papers.

She was supported by a senior LCS officer, Assistant Superintendent Neo Moramotse, who submitted that Lance Corporal Motsieloa was only due for medical check-up in October 2021.

In the meantime, he could remain in custody and even stand trial, Ass Supt Moramotse said.

He also denied Lance Corporal Motsieloa’s allegations of food shortages and unhygienic conditions at the prisons.

“I have reliably been informed that it cannot be true that there are insects and or ticks at the prison. There are health inspectors who regularly inspect the place. The fact that the deponent twisted the facts in a way that besmirches the integrity of the detention facility warrants that disciplinary measures be taken in terms of the law.

“The true state of affairs is that prisoners cannot eat meat everyday as applicants would wish. There is an agreed standard menu across all the prisons in Lesotho. The issue of scarcity of food does not arise at all. We also have open door policy in terms of which inmates are allowed to eat food they prescribe to their families or a relative to prepare for them as and when need arises,” Ass Supt Moramotse said in his court papers.

Despite Ass Supt Moramotse’s denials, some of Lance Corporal Motsieloa’s allegations particularly on overcrowding were confirmed by LCS spokesperson Ass Supt Pheko Ntobane in an interview with this publication yesterday.

Ass Supt Ntobane also conceded that they were faced with challenges of providing a balanced diet to inmates.

“Inmates cannot eat like when they are at home but the LCS tries to afford them balanced meals although we struggle due to a low budget. For instance, on Sundays they eat pap, vegetables and meat.

“In terms of accommodation, we are really struggling and it is a known fact which we cannot shy away from that we are overcrowded. It is a nationwide crisis in the prisons. However, we have also tried to address the issue by opening a new block at the Maseru prison to minimise the congestion.

“We have also succeeded in preventing the outbreak of Covid-19. So far, we have not recorded a single case at our prisons. It would be a disaster if we were to have a case due to the living conditions,” Ass Supt Ntobane told the Sunday Express.

Lesotho’s prison conditions have also been under international scrutiny in recent years.

Two years ago, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) also condemned the state of the country’s prisons, saying they are not compliant with international standards as there were “issues of overcrowding and unacceptable remand time with some inmates having spent more than seven years on remand”.

The ACHPR called on the government to immediately release all suspects who have exceeded the legal remand time and bring prisons facilities and conditions up to the acceptable international standards.

This after visiting the country on a fact-finding mission from 8 to 12 October 2018.

It appears from Lance Corporal Motsieloa’s court papers and the Netflix documentary that very little, if anything, has changed since the ACHPR’s visit.

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