Cops battle to shed ‘terror’ tag


. . . LPMS describes past reputation as shameful



MASERU – The Lesotho Mounted Police (LMPS) is acutely aware and takes the blame for the visitation of terror among members of the public by its members in recent years.

Addressing journalists during the weekly press briefing on Monday, police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said: “Myriad of Basotho are worried by the shameful acts by the police in the past where people were tortured in police detention and during police operations. Some people even lost their lives but I want to assure you that police authorities are hands-on in eradicating those barbaric tendencies among the police.”

As part of ways to end these acts, LPMS will look for the police stations where there are no reports of torture or abuse by police officers and then go on to also look for the district with the least or none of such cases.

Such exemplary police stations or districts will then be awarded certificates as a way of appreciation.

Along with this programme police will also continue to host sports games meant to regularize relations with members of the public.

An example of such games is the police games were held at Police Training Centre (PTC) recently where five teams comprising both the police and ordinary civilians played against each other to unite the police with the public.

The teams were Semonye and Sefothafotha which are both in the premier league, along with Qacha LMPS, Quthing LMPS and Butha-Buthe warriors which are all A division outfits. A police team from Maseru central region was also part of the tournament.

These games are the brain child of police commissioner Holomo Molibe and are expected to be held annually to be used as a vehicle to improve the relations between the police and the public.

However, despite such good intentions, one expert says this is not enough to repair the battered image of the police.

Local psychologist, Professor Peete Lesiamo, from Excellent Dynamix said relevant interventions are needed to prevent future excesses by the police.

“The games and the actions they are suggesting are good but they are just a drop in the ocean. There are serious steps needed to be taken and those are the psychological measures.”

“To me the manner in which the police are retracting their actions is like someone trying to stop a flowing river in the middle instead of going to the source.”

During all the past incidents, the psychological health of Basotho was neglected and people were left traumatised and, unfortunately, overcoming trauma is a process, he noted.

Lesiamo said trauma is defined in myriad of definitions but in simple terms it is about torture of the mind or psychological horror, which can either be felt (physical), seen or heard and its symptoms are seen through emotions. Some people experience fear, others depression or anxiety because the manner in which the different individuals handle the same experience differs.

“What is traumatising to other people might not be necessarily be traumatising to others and all this can be summarised in ‘mob (crowd) psychology,’” Lesiamo said.

Academic, Gustave Le Bori (1841-1931) who is often referred to as “The father of crowd psychology” defines a crowd as a group of people united by a common ideology or a belief or an idea, which means the characteristics of a crowd are different from those of an individual.

“People think in pictures. For example, if I spell the word ‘d.o.g’ what first comes in your mind is a picture of a dog, not just words. Without the pictures of the tomorrow you want, you will end up thinking about the yesterday you didn’t like and that is mind abuse because our minds shouldn’t be an archive of sad events,” Lesiamo said.

He gave the example of Biblical Israelites who asked Moses: “…Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?”. This he noted shows the Israelites only had the pictures of Egypt (which they had experienced) not knowing what Canaan is like but only two messengers knew. Israelites were used to torture and abuse of the Egyptians and all this had to be substituted with good pictures of Canaan.

Against this background, he said, LMPS should find proper ways to replace the pictures of horror in the minds of Basotho with goods images of a reformed police force and therefore they had to be strategic about it.

Lesiamo noted: “Interventions are needed for the pre-event, current, and post-event phases of the brutal attacks and will have to address affected individuals and populations. Currently Basotho have the sad pictures of torture while in police detention or during police operations. Even those who heard about what the police did to people need a certain approach since they still harbour negative attitudes towards the police.”

Any form of terrorism involves the illegal use or threatened use of violence, it is intended to coerce societies by inducing fear in them and the psychological consequences thereof include an array of emotional, behavioural and cognitive problems, the psychologist said.

Symptoms of such trauma can include distress responses, changes in behavior, and in some cases diagnosed psychiatric illness.

Scholars argue that attending to the psychological needs of a traumatised population is a crucial part of recovery from a terrorism, and preparedness and response present a challenge.

Lesotho’s Constitution safeguards a number of fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to life, personal liberty and freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It also contains a requirement that arrested persons be brought before court within 48 hours of their arrest.

Section 22 affords aggrieved individuals the opportunity to approach the High Court for redress in the event that their rights have been violated or are under threat and the High Court is empowered to make “such orders, issue such processes and give such directions as it may consider appropriate” for the purpose of enforcing or securing the enforcement of the rights under threat.

Chapters XII and XIII of the Constitution concerning the Ombudsman and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), respectively, also contain provisions that have implications for police accountability.

The responsibility for the maintenance of law and order lies with the police, which is established under the Constitution and falls under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Public Safety while the Commissioner of Police has the overall command of the LMPS.

Since 1998, the Government has undertaken a number of police reform initiatives.

These have included the introduction of independent policing oversight mechanisms, revision of the police training syllabus to include human rights, and training new police recruits on the UN Convention Against Torture.

The service is currently being restructured to improve its effectiveness.

However, in its country report on Lesotho for 2005, the US Department of State observed that while the Government generally observed human rights, there were reports of violations of human rights by state security organs, including torture and excessive use of force against detained persons.

The LMPS Act of 1988 (Police Act) provides for a number of oversight mechanisms, including a supposedly independent Police Complaints Authority (PCA).

However, the PCA has not lived up to expectation and the current police minister recently expressed her dissatisfaction with the authority and publicly said the authorities were even considering its disbandment.

Below are some of the recorded cases of police involvement in abuse of citizens:

Private Mokotoane was shot and killed by a policeman in Ha Leqele, Maseru in 2013, Sergeant Mahlala was shot and killed execution style by Berea police in Kolonyama, Leribe also in 2013 while Lance Corporal Matšela was shot and killed by a police officer in Thaba-Tseka in 2014.

In 2010, in Tlokoeng, Mokhotlong, three suspects from Matsoku were said to have been detained and tortured to death. In the same year, one Tekane Tekane was allegedly shot and killed by a team of policemen.

In December 2011, in Thabang, Mokhotlong, police shot and killed ’Mankhasi Tsatsi and Sempe Motleleng.

In July 2017, Thelingoane ’Mota was shot and killed by known police officers in Koro-Koro, Maseru.

In November 2017, 70-year-old Mosiuoa Raleababa died in Maputsoe in police detention.

In November 2005, Lance Sergeant ’Mota allegedly shot and killed a member of a security company in Mafeteng.

In 2003, police under the command of the then SSP Kholokholo now DCP Monaheng mowed down several factory workers with live ammunition in which about five dead.

In 2004, Tekesele Shai commonly known as “Makhoathi” was shot and killed by police in Koro-Koro, Maseru.

According to TRC, on August 31, 2017, officers from the Mofoka Police Station tortured members of the community in Ha Mofoka.

“They were made to lie down and were severely beaten. One of them was allegedly shot by the same police and was later found dead with part of his face missing. The victims and families of those affected reported these violations to Flight One Police Station (the Maseru rural police headquarters) and later to the PCA,” a TRC statement read.

Instead of addressing the alleged misconduct of police officers who were involved in that operation, TRC said Flight One Police opted to “intimidate the victims at their homes until one of the victims skipped the country.”

It also accused the PCA of doing “nothing substantial save to take statements of the victims”.

The TRC also brought another torture incident that occurred this past year to the attention of the police minister.

“Nthabiseng Penane, aged 24, was suspected of stealing a cellular phone belonging to a Chinese national. She was severely tortured by both the Chinese and the police who were effecting the arrest.

“Nthabiseng was arrested on Friday, February 2 and only released from police custody the following Monday, February 5 without appearing before court.”

During her three-day detention, she was allegedly tortured and denied access to her antiretroviral drugs.

Police impunity has become so commonplace that, in the proper role of law enforcement has been fossilised under layers of abuse.

Tsikoane Peshoane, head of TRC, put it succinctly in a letter of complaint to police minister Mampho Mokhele earlier this year.

“In all the above incidents of torture, ill-treatment and deprivations of life, perpetrators are well known but had not been held accountable either through prosecution or internal police disciplinary mechanisms,” wrote Peshoane.

Together with Amnesty International, TRC expressed similar fears regarding the disappearance of ’Makarabo Mojakhomo earlier last year.

“The organisations fear that Mojakhomo might have been subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and enforced disappearance by the LMPS.

“She was last seen by her family at the police headquarters on May 30, 2018,” the statement read.

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