MASERU – A damning postmortem report has confirmed torture victim Thabo ‘Mei was beaten to death and died of neck and chest injuries sustained during a two-day ordeal suffered while in police cells, Public Eye can report.
The report says ‘Mei suffered “chest and neck injuries with extensive lung contusion” which medical sources confirm can be fatal, depending on severity.
The post-mortem, performed on Wednesday this week by Pathologist Dr. C.T. Moorosi, shows the cause of death as “assault”.
The “chest and neck injury” was listed as the primary cause of death with “extensive lung contusion”, noted as the secondary cause.
The findings, which have again shifted the spotlight on police brutality, come amid reports ‘Mei’s young brother Lebaka has gone into hiding for fear of being harmed by rogue police officers.
According to LearningRadiology.com lung contusion, also known as pulmonary contusion, is a bruise of the lung caused by chest trauma.
As a result of damage to capillaries, blood and other fluids accumulate in lung tissue. The excess fluid interferes with gas exchange, potentially leading to inadequate oxygen levels known as hypoxia.
A contusion happens when an injured capillary or blood vessel leaks blood into the surrounding area. Contusions are a type of hematoma, which refers to any collection of blood outside of a blood vessel and any injury to this tissue can cause one or more blood vessels to leak blood.
It occurs that 30 to 75 percent of severe chest pains accompanied by other injuries result in death. Although all associated injuries are often the cause of death, pulmonary contusion is thought to cause death directly in a quarter to half of cases.
The ‘Mei family has since opened a case of murder against the police, with Lebaka telling this paper that “as a family we want justice for our brother because he was just a suspect and there was no concrete evidence against him as regards the robbery”.
Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) spokesperson, Mpiti Mopeli, yesterday acknowledged the death but said he had not yet seen the post-mortem report and could therefore not comment on it.
He, however, said the extent of the torture and its results meant that the police could not just sit by and watch, adding that measures would be taken against the perpetrators of the torture.
“We are following the Ha-Matela case diligently. We are aware that one of the arrested suspects who were in police custody has died. This is a serious matter and we are not going to just sit by and watch. All police officers who will be found to be liable for the murder will be taken to task,” Mopeli said.
“However, I am not aware that a post-mortem has been done. I have not seen the post-mortem report and as such I cannot comment on or go into it in detail.”
Thabo ‘Mei was arrested almost a month ago with four others who included Kabelo Ratia, who alleged that he was forced to eat his own faeces after soiling himself while being tortured by the police.
Thabiso ‘Mei, the nephew of the deceased was also tortured and sustained grave injuries while in custody.
While Ratia has since been remanded in the Maseru Central Prison to await trial, the younger ‘Mei and another unnamed suspect appeared in the Maseru Magistrate Court yesterday.
They are all charged with armed robbery and theft of M50, 000, which they allegedly stole from a Ha-Ntsi businessman and taxi owner whose name has been withheld.
Following his torture, the deceased was admitted at the Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital. He was discharged after almost a week in hospital and told to return for a check-up after two weeks.
But his family, worried that he was not recuperating fast enough, decided to take him to another doctor on July 31, only for him to die upon arrival at the doctor’s offices.
Now Lebaka ’Mei, younger brother to the deceased, has told this publication that he is in hiding and fears for his life after police allegedly threatened him with guns just three days after his elder brother’s death.
The younger ’Mei alleged that on Saturday 3 August as he was returning from a funeral at Ha-Ntsi, two Ha-Matela police officers were chatting close to a shop where he stopped his car to buy headache tablets.
He alleged that as he alighted from his car and walked towards the shop, the two police officers drew their guns and walked towards him, but stopped in their tracks “when the two people I was with rolled down the car’s windows”.
“My car is tinted. They realised I was not alone in the car so when my companions saw that the police were coming towards me with their guns drawn, they rolled down the windows and the police officers stopped in their tracks.
“I wonder what could have happened had I been alone. They would probably have shot, killed and framed me. Were it not for my companions, I would be counted among the dead as we speak. Now I fear for my life because if my nephew is still a suspect and my elder brother is dead, one can only wonder what awaits me.”
The reason ‘Mei said the police could be after him was that while his brother was still in the custody of Ha-Matela police, he chased after a car that was used to ferry him to hospital the first night he was tortured, adding that he had been tipped-off by other police officers that “they want to kill me because they think I know too much”.
“I chased the vehicle that was used to take my brother to hospital after he was tortured. They would not let the family see him as he was in a bad shape. So, I saw them putting him in a silver Honda Fit one night to take him to hospital. I chased after them to and from Roma.
“Some of the police officers told me that their colleagues did not like that I chased after them the way I did. They said I knew too much and therefore had to be gotten rid of.
“I know the names of the police officers who tortured my brother and they included one female. I also know the names of the two who intimidated me with guns before realising that I was not alone that fateful Saturday.”
Yesterday, Superintendent ’Malichaba Talasi, spokesman for Maseru rural region based at the Flight One Police Station, said he did not understand why ’Mei did not report his concerns and fears to the police, and referred this paper to Mopeli.
“He (Lebaka ’Mei) did not report his fears to me and the incident you mention. I don’t understand why he did not say anything to me. If he feared going to Ha-Matela, he could have come to Flight One. I’m hearing all this for the first time, from you. Maybe he has his own reasons,” Talasi said.
“However, I can’t comment further because all information and comments you should be getting from the police spokesperson Ntate Mpiti Mopeli. Please contact him for comment on other issues.”
Recently Lepeli Moeketsi – human rights officer at TRC – excoriated government for taking halting steps towards ending police brutality which has sullied the service, and protecting the weak.
“Only victims with financial muscle sometimes get redress from the courts claiming damages and compensation from the government,” he said.
He reminded the government and the nation at large that June 26 this year, marked the 32nd anniversary of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The convention defines torture as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for purposes of obtaining a confession, punishment, intimidation, coercion or discrimination.
Moeketsi said Lesotho ratified the convention on November 12, 2001 and was due to submit an initial report on December 11, 2002 but “Lesotho has failed to submit the initial report overdue in 2002 until present”.
He added, “despite ratifying the convention against torture in 2001, Lesotho has not criminalised torture.”
He called on all arms of government to actively prevent torture and punish those who perpetrate torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and “carry out its commitment to implement laws which criminalise acts of torture”.
And in a judgment geared at stiffening protection of rights of suspects and to put a stop to the spike in civilian deaths at the hands of the police, the Constitutional Court recently reiterated guidelines outlawing inordinate detention, torture and arrest to extract evidence.
The ConCourt ordered police investigators not to unliterally decide to keep suspects in custody for more than the stipulated 48 hours but to provide cogent reasons to a magistrate when there was need to.
The court in a judgment that was scathing in its criticism of police brutality and impunity, a perception that has triggered widespread public disdain for the police, said suspects should be told their rights upon arrest, informed of the charges they are facing and be allowed legal representation.
Also, arresting officers should identify themselves and produce valid identification at the request of the suspect or people present; and desist from using excessive force on suspects.
The ConCourt’s intervention comes on the back of howls of protest about police torture, civilian deaths and the dominant perception rogue members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) were being allowed to get away with conduct not acceptable in a democratic society.
The judgment meant police investigators had to furnish reasons why they need more time to complete interrogating suspects.
Further, the police have to show why they consider charges against suspects well founded enough to warrant keeping suspects in detention beyond 48 hours, as outlined in the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act 1981 (CP&EA).
According to the judgment, police have over time relied on the CP&EA to justify unconstitutional and unjustifiable conduct.
Justices Molefi Makara, Sakoane Sakoane and Moroke Mokhesi who made the judgment also ordered police to always furnish reasons for the arrest of a person within three hours after being brought to the police station and that police should record the reasons for the arrest in the police diary and transfer the same to the investigation diary in the docket.
The judges said police upon arresting a suspect and finding marks or injuries on the suspects, record the reasons for the infliction and take the persons to the nearest hospital or government doctor for treatment and obtain a certificate from the attending doctor and furnish a copy to the arrested person.
On top of that, prosecutors and magistrates have been directed to ensure that there are exceptional circumstances leading to the further detention.
“If the magistrate is satisfied, having considered the stated reasons and materials and representation by the arrested person, he may pass an order for further detention; otherwise, he shall release the person forthwith,” reads part of the guidelines.
If magistrates authorise further detention in police custody, they may allow a stated period not exceeding 48 hours and that if there is no evidence linking the suspect to any offence, the accused must be released.
Magistrates have also been ordered to inquire into deaths of suspects in police custody immediately after receiving the information while it is also the duty of the arresting officer, or the investigation officer, jailer to inform the nearest magistrate or relative at once about the death of any person who dies in custody.