COVID-19: Thabane condemns brutality



MASERU – Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane has condemned the use of violence on civilians by soldiers and police deployed to enforce government’s C0VID-19 lockdown regulations. The novel coronavirus has been declared a national emergency despite Lesotho having no confirmed case of COVID-19. The 23-day soldier-patrolled lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus started on March 29.

Citizens were strictly instructed to stay at their homes except in limited circumstances. It was said that people could only go outside to shop for essential items, pick up medicines and health products and attend medical appointments. People are only permitted to go to work if it deemed essential and if it cannot be done from home.

In the first days of the lockdown, in towns across the country, soldiers and police allegedly used violence to crack down on curfew violators, beating and whipping anyone flouting the lockdown regulations. Viral videos showed soldiers beating suspected offenders and police forcing groups of men to roll on the ground as punishment. The alleged violence was met with widespread condemnation by the public.

In a televised address to the nation on Friday, Thabane reminded the army and police service that they were not deployed to terrorize people and instructed them to respect citizens’ human rights. “I repeat my instruction to you that you should respect these citizens and not use violence against them in any manner whatsoever, because they are the ones who pay your salaries,” he said.

The prime minister set out guiding principles that should govern security agencies’ work during the lockdown and stated the approach he wanted to be adopted when dealing with the people who violated the lockdown regulations. “You should make sure that people who do not comply face the consequences of their actions in accordance with the law,” he said. He labeled members of the army and police who punished citizens for violating rules of the lockdown “rotten potatoes whose behavior is not a reflection of the country’s security establishments”.

He instructed the heads of the military and police to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment committed by the rogue officer and ensure that those reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility are held accountable. The military and police in this country have long history of brutality. Forms of brutality have ranged from intimidation and verbal abuse, assault and battery to mayhem, torture and murder.

In 2018, Afrobarometer reported that a remarkable two-thirds of Basotho said police routinely abuse or torture people in their custody. It said most Basotho were perturbed by police brutality which they perceived as a major problem in the country. Afrobarometer is a Pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in African countries.

It has been a trailblazer when it comes to African statistics. Last year the United Nations (UN) urged government to undertake impartial investigations into allegations of police brutality including reported extrajudicial killings and torture by the police, and bring perpetrators of such crimes to justice. The military has also, over the years, been dogged by controversy and has the history of disregarding civilian rule.

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