MATHATISI SEBUSI AND RELEBOHILE TSOAMOTSE
MASERU – Human rights defenders have applauded High Court judge Justice Molefi Makara for ordering Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) officers to stop chaining “high security risk” detainees, including former army commander Tlali Kamoli, in court.
Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Human Rights Advocacy Officer Lepeli Moeketsi said no one deserved to be treated in a cruel and inhuman way, notwithstanding the gravity of crime they may have committed.
And, this was regardless of whether they had been declared guilty or not.
According to him, everyone has the right to be treated with respect and not be humiliated in any way as long as they were co-operating with the authorities.
He, however, could not say whether detainees should be chained or not as he was not familiar with what prompted security institutions to resort to such drastic measures.
“Security institutions might have reasons to chain offenders when going to courts of law, but it is not right to expose anyone to humiliating or inhuman treatment either by beating or chaining them, especially if they co-operate,” Lepeli said.
The judge reiterated that the correctional services officers should be mindful of their conduct in court and treat every prisoner with dignity.
Justice Makara said this after some correctional officers had attempted to handcuff Lieutenant General Kamoli after his court appearance last week.
The unimpressed judge labelled the officers’ behaviour unacceptable.
“What is this? This behaviour should stop, the courts should be respected,” a seemingly annoyed Makara remarked.
Justice Makara also complained about the manner in which the officers ferry the detainees to court and the inconvenience they cause other road users, advising them to change their behaviour.
Three detained soldiers and a police officer awaiting their trial at Maseru Central Correctional Institution (MCCI) have also complained of ill-treatment at the hands of correctional officers and have called on the commissioner of LCS to intervene.
In a letter written by the detainees’ lawyers to the Commissioner of LCS and seen by Public Eye, the detainees raise a number of issues, complaining that their lives are in danger because of the reckless manner in which officers drive when taking them to court.
The lawyers also said the detainees had informed them of how officers had developed a tendency of interfering with and denying them the right to talk to their legal representatives in court.
Additionally, the detainees have been warned against talking to lawyers in the officers’ absence.
The letter states that the detainees face ridicule in front of their children and wives as correctional officers often use intemperate language designed to provoke and humiliate them.
During family visits correctional officers sit very close to the detainees’ spouses supposedly to provoke the detainees, they alleged.
One detainee, according to the letter, has on a number of occasions been called before what LCS officers refer as to “Lekhotla” to be admonished for not prefixing an MMCI officer’s name with “morena”.
“We are puzzled that our clients are forced to refer to officers under your command using tittles not catered for anywhere in the law and that they are persecuted for not using these self-imposed titles.”
Moeketsi said forcing someone to “respect another” is a violation of that person’s human rights as that should be done voluntarily.
Development for Peace Education Development (DPE) peace education researcher, Thaabe Mmoso, said correctional officers’ principle duty was to bring prisoners to court safely and to ensure the interests of justice were served.
He, however, added that while one was awaiting trial, they should be treated according to correctional institutions’ regulations, guidelines and the Act.
He stressed that chaining detainees was wrong and should be stopped as it violated prisoners’ human rights, and was humiliating and inhuman.
Mmoso nonetheless said correctional institutions had the right under the law to effect security measures deemed fit to avert danger in any situation bearing in mind detainees had rights too.
Kamoli is facing two murder charges and 14 counts of attempted murder which relate to the bombing of the homes of former commissioner of police, Khothatso Tšooana, the then girlfriend and now wife of the Prime Minister Liabiloe Ramoholi and her neighbour in Moshoeshoe II.
He is charged with Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa.
The case could, however, not proceed owing to his constitutional case challenging the appointment of foreign judges hired to hear high profile cases involving members of the security agencies including his.
Attempts to get commissioner Thabang Mothepu’s comment were fruitless as he was unavailable for the set appointment.