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Police must do more to regain public’s trust

The High Court has awarded M100 000 in damages to a government employee who was unlawfully arrested and chained to a police van for 19 hours by the police two years ago.

Apesi Ratšele, an official in the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture told the High Court that he spent nearly a day chained to a police van after being accused of driving under the influence of alcohol.

He said after that torturous 19-hour ordeal the police released him without a charge.

Ratšele alleged that he was released only because the police wanted to use the handcuffs on another man who had just been arrested.

We are appalled but not shocked by such behaviour by our police officers.

This is not the first time the police have been accused of such barbaric behaviour and we are sure it will not be the last.

Over the years we have reported shocking details of how the police had tortured suspects.

We have reported how our police officers have resorted to beating suspects with knobkerries, truncheons and boots just to get confessions.

Some victims have reported being suffocated with tyre tubes and plastic bags.

The damages won by Ratšele only add to the millions of maloti that the police have had to pay to torture victims. It is important to note that those millions have come from taxpayers who fund police operations. 

What is particularly sad is that the police have lost almost all cases in which they have been sued for torture.

In Ratšele’s case the police didn’t even bother to mount a defence.

We don’t remember the last time any police officer was brought to book for torturing a suspect.

And with the police’s cavalier approach to this serious abuse of basic human rights we doubt that any police officer will ever answer for such gross transgressions.

We have said it before and will say it again: our police officers must change the way they operate if they want to regain the public trust, goodwill and respect they have squandered over the years.

There is urgent need for our police officers to be trained in human rights.

It is clear from all these cases of torture that our police officers lack basic investigative skills.

That is why instead of using acceptable and humane interrogation techniques they would rather resort to such crude methods like torture to solve cases.

The damage their actions have caused is colossal.

We have seen how our courts have thrown out evidence on grounds that the police have tortured suspects to confess.

Cases that might otherwise be quite genuine have crumbled after the suspects alleged that they have been tortured by the police. 

The public is now contemptuous of the police.

The trust between the police and the public has been eroded.

All this makes it difficult for the police to curb the rampant crime in this country.

Without the public support our police cannot even dream of catching the criminals in our villages. It makes battle against crime harder to win. 

To regain that trust, goodwill and respect our police officers must start respecting the people’s rights. They must stop behaving like unruly bullies.

They must also be trained in basic investigation skills.

While we take solace from the fact that it is not yet too late for our police to clean up its image we worry that time is fast running out.

Soon people will start taking the law into their own hands and anarchy will ensue.

The time for change is now and not later.

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