Thabane allies, opposition slam govt, police
RULING All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislators loyal to the party leader and former Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, joined forces with the opposition to condemn the government and police for alleged brutality against youths who recently demonstrated against the government’s failure to address the high unemployment in the country.
Police heavy-handedness reared its ugly head a week ago on 6 November 2020 when heavily armed Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) officers descended on thousands of youths who had taken to the streets to protest against high unemployment and other socio-economic ills.
Several protestors were left nursing injuries after the police attacked them for demonstrating without a permit. Police have been reluctant to allow mass protests ever since the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic broke out early this year.
The country’s public health regulations prescribe that no more than 30 people should be allowed to gather publicly. However, restive youths, whose anger has been simmering over the government’s apparent inertia in the face of an unemployment crisis, felt compelled to stage a protest march despite being denied a permit by the police.
Police officers reacted by firing teargas and rubber bullets and in some instance even assaulting protestors who heeded youth group, Transform Lesotho Initiative (TLI)’s call for them to demonstrate in downtown Maseru. The protest was supported by the Majalefa Development Movement- a movement which seeks to advance the social, economic and political interests of Basotho youths.
The opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) also supported the protest. The protestors had intended to hand over a petition to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and Speaker of Parliament, Sephiri Motanyane.
Eleven youths were arrested for participating in an illegal march and allegedly vandalising the stalls of some vendors.
The accused are Rammatli Phakisi, Thuto Morahanye, Kahisano Kolobe, Thesele Moshoeshoe, Tumo Tsanyane, Thabiso Kelane, Matela Semoli, Limakatso Tšepe, Mahlakisa Mothobi, Mabataung Sehlabo and Tšeliso Metsing.
They spent three nights in police custody at the Maseru Central Police Station before being freed on bail on Monday by Maseru Magistrate, Makopano Rantšo.
The suspects were represented by Advocates Sekoala Makara, Makhabane Masupha and Phoka Matete.
The lawyers accused the police of torturing the youths and detaining them in uninhabitable holding cells which lacked proper ventilation, lights, beds and mattresses. They also accused the police of denying the assault victims medical treatment.
They alleged that the police invaded the accused’s privacy by taking their mobile phones and deleting videos and photos that they had taken during their arrests.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said the police were forced to disperse the protestors because their demonstration was illegal.
His sentiments were echoed by Police and Public Safety Minister, ‘Mamoipone Senauoane, who told legislators that the protest was illegal hence the arrests.
Ms Senauoane said the youths did not apply for a permit to hold the demonstration. She said that people who wish to hold a demonstration or rally must apply for police permit at least seven days before the day of the event.
“The government and I, as the Minister of Police and Public Safety, believe in democracy and respect for human rights as enshrined in the constitution,” Ms Senauoane said last week.
“However, we also believe that we are a country that is governed by the rule of law which should be observed by all.
“The protesters ignored an order by the police to disperse from an illegal gathering and this led to the arrests. I appeal to all people to abide by the law and to observe the Covid-19 regulations.”
Ms Senauoane said she was not aware of any protestors who had been tortured and injured by the police, saying she had not received any doctors’ reports about the injuries.
Her statement was greeted with anger and jeers from opposition MPs as well as ABC legislators loyal to Mr Thabane.
AD spokesperson Thuso Litjobo described the police heavy-handedness as an “attempted murder” of the youths.
He said he had also been harassed by the police when he and other MPs attended to some of the youths who had brought their petition to parliament.
“What an embarrassing statement,” Mr Litjobo said of Ms Senauoane’s speech.
“Why was I subjected to degrading treatment? No one has a right to harass MPs when we are going about our businesses. Was this attempted murder necessary simply because the youths did not have a permit,” Mr Litjobo asked.
Mr Phori said it was baffling that action had been taken against the youths for not having a permit to protest while politicians were allowed to hold big political gatherings ostensibly to hand over food and other donations to vulnerable communities.
Mr Phori is among ABC legislators unhappy with the party’s decision to forge a new coalition with the Democratic Congress (DC) and the party’s subsequent withdrawal from the governing Thomas Thabane-led governing coalition with the AD, Basotho National Party (BNP) and reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) in May this year.
The ABC then forced Mr Thabane to step down as prime minister and replaced him with the party’s Thetsane MP, Moeketsi Majoro, on 20 May this year.
Disgruntled with Mr Thabane’s treatment, Mr Phori and other Thabane loyalists joined forces with the opposition, particularly the AD, in moves aimed at eventually bringing down the government. This far, Mr Phori has unsuccessfully tried to mobilise MPs for a no confidence vote against the government.
He and his ABC colleagues teamed up with the AD and other opposition parties to address a joint press conference at the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) offices condemning the government and police for alleged brutality against the youths.
Some of the ABC MPs who attended the press conference are Lehlohonolo Moramotse (Lithoteng constituency), Chalane Phori (Qoaling), Mohlajoa Leshoboro (Malimong) Temeki Tšolo (Mafeteng), Lesego Makgothi (Maseru Central) and Samonyane Ntsekele (Tsikoane).
AD legislators in attendance included Mokherane Tsatsanyane (Stadium Area), Tlohang Aumane (Semena), Kose Makoa (proportional representation). The LCD was represented by its proportional representation MPs, Lineo Tlali, Tseleng Thamae and Thato Ntsibolane while the Democratic Party of Lesotho (DPL) was represented by its leader, Limpho Tau.
They released a joint statement, accusing the police of using unnecessary force to break up the demonstration.
Reading the statement on behalf of the parties, Mr Ntsibolane said, “young people will always be vocal in expressing their views”.
“They are frustrated by what they perceive to be the failings of government. It is only logical to expect them to give voice to these frustrations. When they choose to do this in a peaceful way they should be supported and not met with teargas and rubber bullets.
“The absence of a permit is not an excuse for the overzealous and downright brutal methods employed by the police. Parliament is at the centre of our democracy. Our people especially must be free to make their feelings known to their elected representatives. As members of parliament, we expect to see protesters at the gates of parliament from time to time,” Mr Ntsibolane said.