. . . as heads roll at LCS



MASERU – Law and Justice Minister Richard Ramoeletsi has announced the suspension of two top correctional services officers over the escape of six prisoners and subsequent torture of some detainees at Maseru Correctional Institution last month. The two officers are Assistant Commissioners Lipholo Nthako and Tsoto Manaka who have both been suspended pending an investigation into the circumstances that led to both the jail break and torture.

Nthako heads the correctional staff training school, while Manaka is an officer commanding the Maseru Central Prison.  Ramoeletsi said that the pair is suspended to enable investigations can run smoothly. The escape happened a month ago prompting a search operation within prison cells where some inmates sustained serious injuries. Unverified reports said some of the officers who participated in the torture are still in training hence Nthako’s suspension while Monaka was part of those identified by the victims as having participated in their torture.

While all inmates who escaped have successfully been rearrested, an independent commission of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the prison break and torture of some will get to the bottom of what really transpired. Ramoleletsi said the inquiry is necessary so that the root cause of the events that transpired when inmates escaped and some tortured can be identified and corrective action taken. He undertook to implement recommendations that will be made by the inquiry so that similar events do not happen again in future.

“On behalf of the government, I am making a commitment that thorough investigations will be conducted through an independent commission of inquiry. The inquiry will get to the bottom of what transpired and its recommendations will be made public,” Ramoeletsi said. Ramoeletsi gave an account of the situation at the correctional facility following public outcry and as family members of the tortured inmates petitioned courts to come to their rescue. The families and lawyers were not allowed to see their family members following their torture and High Court Judge Mabats’oeneng Hlaele ordered the Commissioner of the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS), Mating Nkakala, to allow family members and lawyers to see and consult with clients. Justice Hlaele had also ordered that the victims be allowed to see doctors of their choice.

While Ramoeletsei said the motive and circumstances leading to the torture of inmates will be revealed by the commission of inquiry, he explained that preliminary findings revealed that inmates sustained injuries as a result of an operation by LCS management to search for unauthorized items in the prison cells after six inmates escaped from custody by using unauthorized items.

It was during the said operation that some of the inmates were objecting to the search operation and a squabble ensued between them and prison officials resulting in the injuries of some. Two criminal cases have been opened against the LCS command and six officers have been named as assailants.

The Law Society of Lesotho condemned the acts of torture and called for the resignation of the commissioner of LCS. The lawyers’ body 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.”

The body threatened legal action if the commissioner does not resign.

According to the society, there is need to protect the rights of inmates including soldiers awaiting trial and that any form of violence, torture or abuse against them is unacceptable, unethical and illegal.

The 12 soldiers who are part of the tortured inmates recently wrote to minister Ramoeletsi demanding compensation from government. They said they want to be compensated for torture and injurious acts they were subjected at the hands of Lesotho Correctional Services. They also want to be “accorded specialist examination and treatment forthwith at state expense.”

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