A 34 year old Maseru man, who recently made headlines after being tortured by police along with three others, has died as a result of the wounds he sustained at the hands of the rogue officers, the Sunday Express has learnt.
According to family members, Thabo Mei, from Nazareth in the Maseru district, was declared dead on arrival at Scott Hospital in Morija, where he had been taken for a medical examination on Wednesday.
His torture and death add to the growing list of civilians who have been tortured by rogue police officers and died as a result of their injuries.
Mr Mei was arrested a fortnight ago along with 31 year-old Kabelo Ratia also of Nazareth and two others for allegedly stealing M30 000 from a local businessman.
In one of the worst accusations of sordid and sadistic behaviour leveled against the police, Mr Ratia alleged that he was tortured to the point where he soiled himself and was made to eat his own faeces.
During his detention Mr Ratia, who was the first to be arrested, was allegedly subjected to horrendous torture and forced to implicate others including Mr Mei and his nephew, Thabiso Mei, Thato Liau and Gerard Leshapa in the alleged theft of the businessman’s money. Mr Thabo Mei was subsequently hospitalised after suffering injuries.
According to one of the family members who spoke to the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity, Mr Thabo Mei was initially taken to a clinic in Ha ’Mantšebo but had to be taken to Scott Hospital in Morija when it became clear that his condition was so serious that the clinic staff could not assist him.
“The doctor (at Ha ’Mantšebo) told us that there was nothing they could do for him (Thabo Mei) and advised that we take him elsewhere. We took him to Scott Hospital on Wednesday where he was declared dead upon arrival,” one family member told this publication.
Another family member said Mr Thabo Mei could have suffered brain damage as a result of the torture.
“While in custody he told us that police would heat a spade and beat him with it until he lost consciousness. Doctors told us that he could have suffered some brain damage or internal bleeding as his head seemed to have beaten against a wall.
“His whole body was covered in green and red bruises and he had an open wound on the waist which could not even be stitched. His speech was slurred and we could hardly hear anything that he wanted to say,” the relative said.
After their torture a fortnight ago, the late Mr Mei and the other suspects’ lawyer, Advocate Mafaesa, wrote to Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli demanding action against the rogue officers. Adv Mafaesa threatened to sue the officers as well as Commissioner Molibeli in the event that the latter did not act against the rogue officers.
“We act on the instructions of Kabelo Ratia, Thabiso Mei, Thato Liau, Gerard Leshapa and Thabo Mei,” Adv Mafaesa states in his 18 July 2019 letter to Commissioner Molibeli.
“Our clients instruct us that they were tortured by the following officers: Police Constable (PC) Maanela, PC Lelaka, PC Ts’ iame, PC Morake and three other officers whose particulars are unknown to our clients. They (police officers) subjected our clients to inhuman and degrading treatment, which in terms of the Lesotho laws and international norms, amount to crimes against humanity.”
Adv Mafaesa stated that fellow police officers at Matela Police Station refused to allow the torture victims to press charges against their alleged torturers and therefore Commissioner Molibeli should intervene and ensure the charges are filed.
“In the event of your failure to act, our instructions are to approach the Constitutional Court on an urgent basis for appropriate relief. In that regard damages and punitive costs will be sought against you and the said rogue police officers in your personal and official capacities,” Adv Mafaesa stated.
In the aftermath of Mr Mei’s death, Adv Mafaesa was not reachable on his mobile phone when the Sunday Express called to establish what action he would take on behalf of the deceased’s family and the other torture victims.
Police Spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli was also not reachable on his phone for comment.
The police are already facing lawsuits for torturing civilians including that of opposition Movement for Economic Change (MEC) legislator Thabo Ramatla. Mr Ramatla is suing for M2 million in damages for torture that he was allegedly subjected to by the police in May this year.
A Maseru widow, ‘Makeabetsoe Selete, is also suing the police for M1 million damages for “brutally killing” her husband, Lekhetho, in 2011.
The cases are among many that have put the spotlight on the police for brutality against civilians. There have been numerous other cases of torture and deaths of suspects at the hands of the police.
A recent African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) report seen by the Sunday Express expresses concern over the “persistent allegations of police brutality” in Lesotho and call on the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations.
“The government should incorporate the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in all its actions as well as in the legal, policy and institutional reforms which would be initiated as a result of the ongoing national dialogue,” the ACHPR report states.
Early last year, the then Police and Public Safety minister, ’Mampho Mokhele, torched a storm when she publicly admitted that the police used illegal methods including torture to extract confessions from suspects.
Ms Mokhele, who served as a police officer for 37 years, made the revelation at a ceremony where the LMPS was presented with forensic equipment donated by the Algerian government.
She said she hoped the equipment would go a long way in removing the need for torture as the police could now use it to determine whether or not a suspect had been involved in the commission of a crime.
“We, as the police, are often forced to use violence to get information out of people because at times we would be sure that the suspect committed the crime but due to lack of tangible evidence we have to use force,” Ms Mokhele said.
Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, has condemned police brutality and ordered the Ministry of Police and Public Safety to furnish him with a report of how the ministry has dealt with cases of police officers suspected of human rights violations.
The United States ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, has also warned that Lesotho risks losing out on the multi-million-dollar second compact under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) due to concerns about “unacceptable” corruption and police brutality against citizens.