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Mokhothu flees, alleges hit list


Bereng Mpaki

THE deputy leader of the Democratic Congress (DC), Mathibeli Mokhothu, has fled the country citing “suspicious vehicles” at his home and alleging persecution by the government of opposition leaders.

Mr Mokhothu, who is also the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, skipped the country on Thursday to join Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing in exile.

Mr Metsing fled the country on Tuesday citing a tip-off from a “trusted source” about a plot to assassinate him.

Mr Mokhothu told the Sunday Express from his undisclosed hideout that he did not bother to notify the police of his security concerns since “they are being used by the government to fight its political battles”.

Communications Minister Joang Molapo has rubbished Mr Mokhothu’s claims, saying the government would not achieve anything in persecuting the opposition.

Chief Molapo, however, stressed that the police would continue to probe crimes allegedly committed by some politicians without fear or favour.

This was echoed by police spokesperson, Inspector Mpiti Mopeli, who said the law enforcement agency was following evidence of criminality and not targeting the government’s opponents as claimed by Mr Mokhothu.

Mr Mokhothu said the arrest and charging of LCD deputy leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi, with murder as well as the flight of Mr Metsing convinced him to also skip the country.

Mr Mokhosi handed himself over to the police last Monday to assist with the investigation into Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng’s disappearance and subsequent murder.

Mr Mokhosi, who was a Defence and National Security minister in the previous government, was subsequently charged with PC Khetheng’s murder along with four police officers who face the same charge.

He has since been released on bail while awaiting trial.

For his part, Mr Metsing fled the country after seeing two bakkies and a van parked outside his home in Mahobong, Leribe district, on Tuesday night.

According to LCD spokesperson Teboho Sekata, the former deputy premier had been warned that he was on a list of people targeted for assassination.

The Prime Minister Thomas Thabane-led government has vehemently denied the allegations and urged Mr Metsing to report his concerns to the police.

Said Mr Mokhothu: “I made the decision to flee the country in light of the recent persecution of opposition leaders which culminated in the arrest and subsequent torture of LCD deputy leader Ntate Tšeliso Mokhosi by the police.

“I was concerned about the heavily-armed police officers who were on their way to the home of LCD leader, Ntate Mothetjoa Metsing. Some vehicles without registration numbers were also spotted around my house.”

The DC deputy leader said he had stopped residing at his house prior to fleeing the country “in light of recent developments”.

Mr Mokhothu also claimed that his name had prominently featured in two separate hit lists that were circulating on social media.

“I initially dismissed the two hit lists that circulated on social media but started paying attention when a third list for arrests surfaced,” he said.

“The third list for arrests included the names of Tšeliso Mokhosi, Mothetjoa Metsing, (DC spokesperson) Serialong Qoo and myself among others.

“So, when Ntate Mokhosi was arrested, I received a tip off that Ntate Metsing and myself were next in line, with (DC leader and former premier) Ntate Pakalitha Mosisili also following suit.

“The suspicious vehicles that were spotted around my house confirmed my concerns and I had to flee.”

Asked why the government would want to arrest him, Mr Mokhothu said they were trying to weaken the congress parties ahead of the local government elections scheduled for 30 September 2017.

“We are in the middle of the electioneering period for the local government elections, so they are trying to weaken us ahead of the polls,” he said, adding that he had not bothered to report his concerns to the police.

“It would not be helpful at all to report the matter to the police because the government is using the very police to persecute us. The police have become Thabane’s lap dogs who will do anything he tells them to do.”

Mr Mokhothu also took a swipe at the South African Development Community (SADC) for what he claims is disregard for the congress parties’ grievances when they were in power and in opposition.

SADC rejected the opposition’s claim that the 3 June 2017 parliamentary elections were rigged and its call for a forensic audit of the polls.

Instead, the regional bloc affirmed the SADC Electoral Observation Mission’s statement soon after the elections that the electoral process was generally “peaceful, credible and transparent”.

The 3 June 2017 polls resulted in the ouster of the Dr Mosisili-led seven party government after four parties cobbled together their 63 seats to form a governing coalition.

The four governing parties consist of Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention, Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho.

The previous government was made up of the DC, LCD, Marematlou Freedom Party, Basotho Congress Party, National Independent Party, Lesotho People’s Congress and Popular Front for Democracy.

“They had an attitude towards us when we were in government, and that very same negative vibe seems to be continuing even now that we are no longer in power,” he said.

“We recently wrote them a letter raising the issue of police brutality in Lesotho among other issues but nothing seems to have come of it.

“They have failed to heed our early warnings, and maybe the latest developments in Lesotho’s political landscape will make them act.”

Asked what it would take for him and other recent exiles to return home, Mr Mokhothu said the government should “stop abusing the police” and lay the framework for reforms.

“Until the government stops misusing the police to drive its political agenda, and kicks offs the reforms process in earnest, with a proper oversight body in place, I don’t see us coming back any time soon,” he said.

Chief Molapo scoffed at Mr Mokhothu’s claim of a hit list, saying the government would only gain notoriety in killing its opponents.

“Why would we be interested in a hit list? To achieve what? There is no benefit in getting a reputation as killers,” he said.

“All we are interested in is a reputation of being a government that is cool and calm and knows what it is doing. We have absolutely no interest in killing anybody.”

Chief Molapo added: “I cannot for the life of me understand why he (Mr Mokhothu) decided to do what he has done. No one is targeting him for anything.”

On the allegation that the police are being used to persecute the government’s opponents, the minister said: “The police are conducting criminal investigations. Unfortunately, certain politicians decided to get themselves involved in things they should not have been involved in.

“The police are simply pursuing evidence and leads. They don’t make up stories.”

Insp Mopeli also refuted the claim that the police were being used by the government to pursue its opponents.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. Our job as the Lesotho Mounted Police Service is to investigate suspected of criminal activities regardless of who they are,” he said.

Insp Mopeli has also refuted the claim that Mr Mokhosi was tortured, urging the party to report their claim to the law enforcement agency.

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