MASERU – The correctional services officers who allegedly participated in the torture of inmates at the Maseru correctional institution have been named and a criminal case opened against the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) command. The case has been registered at Maseru Central police station. Officers Manaka, Rats’ele, Sekokotoane, Nkhapetla, Ramphielo and Khuso Mohale have been identified as assailants in a letter by lawyer Advocate Napo Mafaesa to Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli.
Police have been urged to investigate the six officers and other unknown persons for their alleged participation in the torture of inmates at correctional services. The exact number of the tortured prisoners is not known but nine Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members awaiting a murder trial at the facility are among the tortured inmates and sought the court’s interference on Christmas Eve as their situation worsened.
They said they were not allowed any visitors after they were tortured and sustained injuries and were unable to get medical attention of their choice. They asked the court to order Commissioner of Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS), Mating Nkakala to allow them to see a doctor of their choice and that they be brought before court in order to consult with lawyers and meet family members.
They also asked the court to direct that a photographer of their choice be allowed to take their images that they intend to use as part of evidence. The soldiers are: Motsieloa Leutsoa, Marasi Mooleli, Ntakanyane Motanyane, Tieho Tokiso, Sebilo Sebilo, Litekanyo Nyakane, Mahlomola Mokhoali, Mahlehle Moeletsi and one Liphapang Sefako. Sebilo’s lawyers wrote to the commissioner of Police on December 28, 2023 after they were dismissed when they reported the crime of torture.
Advocate Mafaesa said a police officer on duty on the day they went to report refused to open a criminal case “unreasonably citing that Mr. Sebilo Sebilo who is in detention, should come to police station and report the case.” Mafaesa then told the Commissioner of Police that they have instructions from Sebilo to open the criminal against the Maseru correctional institution officials who tortured him.
In the letter, the six officers are named and after their names were revealed before the High Court as victims led evidence during their appearance. “The evidence given before the High Court revealed that Officer Manaka, Officer Rats’ele, Officer Sekokotoane, Officer Khuso Mohale, Officer Nkhapetla, Officer Ramphielo and others unknown to client were positively identified as the assailants,” read the letter in part. Sebilo’s brother, Hekenke was eventually able to open the case on December 29, 2023 and it is being investigated.
The nine soldiers are not the only victims. One Tlotliso Bereng, an awaiting trial detainee at Maseru Correctional Institution is also bedridden in hospital after “he was subjected to beatings by prison officials.” His sister, Malerato Khalikane, responded by suing the Commissioner of Correctional Service and told the court in an affidavit that his brother was tortured by prison officials who even warned him not to speak out about the incident.
Khalikane said she got to learn about her brother’s hospitalisation through Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital staff who called her to inform her that her brother’s spine could have been damaged.
She told the court that a nurse also advised her that her brother needed to be transferred to Pelonomi Hospital and had to be accompanied by a family member. “My husband, Rethabile Khalikane rushed to pick his passport and proceeded to Bloemfontein with Tlotliso. The examinations were conducted and doctors gave an opinion that the spinal cord did not seem to be injured but there is visible and clear dislocation which may be fatal but with proper care and physiotherapy, he can get healed with time,” she said.
When Tlotliso was referred back to Ts’epong, Khalikane said prison officials did not allow them to have privacy with her brother who “was manacled in our presence.”
She said her brother lived in fear.
When they spoke to him and asked him to disclose what happened, “he hesitantly reported that during morning hours he heard two prison doors opening and when the officials entered, he was subjected to beatings and collapsed. He reported that he was left in his holding cell lying prone on the floor before he was then taken to Queen II Hospital after which he was taken to Ts’epong for referral. He explained that the prison officials were not happy with the doctor’s advice that he be taken to Bloemfontein and wanted him released back into their custody.”
Khalikane is asking the court to order an inquiry that will establish the circumstances leading to her brother’s torture and that the Commissioner be ordered to facilitate appearance of any of his subordinates with material information as may be required by the court.
Law and Justice Minister, Richard Ramoeletsi has said inmates sustained injuries as a result of an operation by LCS management to search for unauthorized items in prison cells after six inmates escaped from custody.
It was during the search operation that some inmates objected to the search operation and a squabble ensued between them and prison officials resulting in the injuries of some. Ramoeletsi said the affected inmates were rushed to Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital and Queen Elizabeth II Hospital adding that investigations are being conducted to get to the bottom of the issue.
“On behalf of government, I am making a commitment that thorough investigations will be conducted through an independent commission of inquiry that will be established to get to the bottom of what transpired and the recommendations of the commission will be made public,” Ramoeletsi said.
The recommendations, he said, will be implemented so that similar events do not happen again in future. The Law Society of Lesotho has condemned the acts of torture and called for the resignation of the commissioner of LCS. The Law Society said the severity of the security breach and reported acts of violence that happened at Maseru Central prison “demand a change in leadership to restore public trust and uphold principles of justice.”
According to the Law Society, there is need to protect the rights of inmates, including soldiers awaiting trial, and that any form of violence, torture and or abuse against them is unacceptable, unethical and illegal. “We call on the government to take immediate and decisive action to address the systemic issues within correctional facilities, accountability measures including disciplinary actions and legal consequences must be implemented.”