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Rogue police officers face the music

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  • as Commissioner Molibeli finally acts on police brutality

’Marafaele Mohloboli

AT LEAST 50 rogue police officers, accused of brutality against civilians, will soon face criminal charges as Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli moves to act against the scourge and restore public confidence in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

This according to Commissioner Molibeli and police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli who told the Sunday Express that the decision to act against the 50 officers was taken after lengthy internal investigations of public complaints against the police for acts of brutality which date back to 2017.

The subject of police brutality has continued to be a thorny issue with opposition parties, the African Union (AU), the regional bloc and Lesotho’s international development partners all demanding urgent action to address the problem.

To date more than 70 people are said to have died at the hands of the police nationwide in the past two years while others have been injured and traumatized due after being tortured and subjected to other forms of degrading and inhuman treatment.

Speaking in an interview with this publication this week, Supt Mopeli said, “at least 50 police officers stationed in different parts of the country are facing disciplinary action”.

“The atrocities range from injuring to killing civilian suspects in police custody since 2017.”

“Some of the officers have already been given letters demanding that they show cause why they should not be dismissed from the police service for alleged acts of brutality against civilians.

“Others have been already been interdicted while others will be hauled before disciplinary hearings ahead of possible prosecution in the courts of law,” Supt Mopeli said.

His remarks were echoed by Commissioner Molibeli who said his command was committed to dealing with the alleged offences including those which were committed before his appointment in August 2018 by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

Some police sources told this publication that Commissioner Molibeli had finally moved to act only because he wanted to rein on his subordinates in the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) who have mounted a sustained campaign to get him fired from the force.

LEPOSA spokesperson Police Constable (PC) Motlatsi Mofokeng yesterday dismissed the moves to discipline rogue officers as a mere window-dressing exercise meant to relieve some of the pressure on the police boss who has been under pressure from the public as well regional, continental and international development partners to act against police brutality.

“It is a lie that all police officers implicated in these atrocities have been taken to task. This is just some noise by the police command to appear as though they are doing something.

“There are some police officers who have cases to answer but they have been spared because they are friends with the commissioner.

“We are not at all against people being disciplined but we are against discriminatory action. If people are in the wrong let them pay for their wrong doings without sparing others.

“If any of our members are in the wrong, we will not help them to get legal representation. But what we don’t want to see is our members being made scapegoats. We want to see everyone who has a case to answer being brought to book. No one should be spared. If there is such an exercise to discipline our members it should not just target our (LEPOSA) members only,” PC Mofokeng said yesterday.

For more than a year now, LEPOSA and Commissioner Molibeli have been at each other’s throats with the militant union accusing the police boss of incompetence and bias in the handling of police grievances. It accuses him of failing to deal with the scourge of police brutality and only targeting those officers he considers threats to his power.

It also accuses him of unprocedurally promoting his close allies like Deputy Police Commissioner (DCP) Paseka Mokete and Assistant Police Commissioner (ACP) Beleme Lebajoa.

It has even petitioned Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro to fire him.

Commissioner Molibeli in turn accuses the LEPOSA members of rebelling against his command.

He even fired LEPOSA national treasurer Lance Sergeant ‘Mathebe Motseki but the decision has been revoked by the High Court. He has also initiated processes to fire other senior officials. This despite the setting of an inter-ministerial committee by Dr Majoro to probe the police infighting on 6 August 2020.

The committee comprises of ministers ‘Mamoipone Senauoane (Police and Public Safety), Prince Maliehe (Defence and National Security), Kemiso Mosenene (Prime Minister’s Office) and Prof Mahao (Law and Justice), who is its chairperson.

It has since presented its findings and recommendations to the premier but these are yet to be made public.

Other police sources say Commissioner Molibeli has been moved to act by recent warnings by the United States government that Lesotho could miss out on a on the multi-million-dollar second compact under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) due to concerns about police brutality against citizens as well as the failure to address other human rights issues such as human trafficking.

However, Supt Mopeli was coy in his response when asked if the police boss was only acting now to get back at militant LEPOSA members and due to fears of Lesotho losing out on a second MCC compact as alleged by the police sources.

“It is quite difficult to say this (action against police brutality) could have been influenced by the US utterances or LEPOSA issues because disciplinary processes were already in the pipeline and some of these police officers had been interdicted for their alleged offences since 2017,” Supt Mopeli said.

On his part, Commissioner Molibeli insisted that they were only implementing disciplinary measures that had been planned way before his fight with LEPOSA or the criticisms levelled against the force by the public as well as international development partners.

Commissioner Molibeli’s moves to discipline the rogue offices come more than a year after the AU’s Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) visited the country and produced a damning report expressing concern over the “persistent allegations of police brutality” in Lesotho. It also called 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 said in its report.

It also comes a year after the previous Thomas Thabane administration told fellow Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders that it would prosecute 30 rogue police officers accused of various acts of brutality including the killing and injuring suspects in police custody.

Mr Thabane said this at the SADC leaders’ summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in August 2019.

He said this in the aftermath of shocking reports that rogue officers had allegedly tortured 31-year-old Kabelo Ratia of Nazareth in the Maseru district in July 2019.

While several people came forward with accusations, it is the alleged torture of Mr Ratia which has grabbed the headlines.

Mr Ratia alleged that he was tortured to the point where he soiled himself and was made to eat his own faeces.

He had been arrested for allegedly stealing M30 000 from a local businessman. During his detention Mr Ratia was allegedly subjected to horrendous torture and forced to implicate others including one Thabo May in the alleged theft of the businessman’s money. Mr May was hospitalised and eventually died of the injuries inflicted on him.

Mr Ratia and other suspects did not take their alleged torture lying down and their lawyer, Advocate Mafaesa, of Zwelakhe Mda Chambers subsequently wrote to Commissioner 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.

In his letter to Commissioner Molibeli, Adv Mafaesa named one Police Constable (PC) Maanela, PC Lelaka, PC Tšiame, PC Morake as the officers behind the gruesome torture of his client.

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 or face legal action.

It remains unclear if Commissioner Molibeli ever acted on the specific demands of Adv Mafaesa. It also appears that the lawyer and his client did not follow through on their threats to sue the police.

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