Torture saga sucks in SADC

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RELEBOHILE TSOAMOTSE

MASERU – The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been sucked into the torture saga involving a group of 12 detained Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers by correctional services employees three weeks ago. The soldiers say SADC was instrumental in their incarceration and should therefore be notified of their torture.

They state this in a letter written by their lawyers and addressed to Law, Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Richard Ramoeletsi. The letter has also been copied to SADC, Amnesty International and the Christian Council of Lesotho. The soldiers are calling for the criminal prosecution of correctional officers or individuals who participated in their torture.

In the letter, they state that they want to be “accorded specialist examination and treatment forthwith at state expense.” They also want to be compensated for torture and what they describe as contumelious (insulting and humiliating) acts they were subjected to at the hands of the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS).

Further, they want assurance from government that they will never be subjected to any torture by LCS staff or any employee of the government or its agents. They also state that they have reason to believe that their torture was orchestrated because of the treatment they have been receiving since their detention. “You will no doubt appreciate why clients would be suspicious of the reasons behind their assaults, given that they have been singled out for treatment not accorded to other persons facing the same charges as they face,” read the letter, in part.

If anything, the victims believe that their torture was a deliberate provocative act meant to push them into acting in self-defence and thereby give their assailants a perfect excuse to kill them. The letter identifies six LCS officers who are said to have participated in the torture. “The inmates identified Tsoto Manaka, Rats’ele, Khuso Mohale Nkhapetla, Ramphielo and one Sekokotoana as part of those who took part in their assault.” Human Rights Lawyer, Advocate Napo Mafaes also wrote to the Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli last week urging him to investigate the said officers for their alleged involved in the torture of inmates.

Lawyers representing the victims inform the minister in the letter that they were not allowed to see and consult with clients when they visited them sometime in December last year after complaints by family members that they were also not allowed to visit them. The lawyers also chronicle details of evidence of apparent torture. “Shockingly, when the inmates appeared before the court on December 24, 2023, they bore visible signs of having been savagely beaten up – one of them, Sebilo Sebilo had his right leg in plaster.

“One had his head wrapped in a bandage; some had eyes red with internal bleeding; some walked with a limp and some complained of having been assaulted on their abdomen resulting in that part of the body turning greenish in colour. They said they suspected (there could be) internal injuries.”

The lawyers added: “The inmates told harrowing stories of how they had mercilessly and without any provocation, been kicked, hit with fists and beaten up with sticks, rubber mallets and knobkerries by a horde of 15 or so members of the LCS stationed at MCCI.

“One said he was asked to turn his face to the wall and touch the wall. He thought he was going to be searched as usual, only for him to be hit on the waist with a knobkerrie followed by an avalanche of further blows by all sorts of weapons. Another inmate had to be transferred to Bloemfontein because of apparent paralysis arising from an injury to his backbone.” The government responded by establishing commission of inquiry to establish circumstances leading to the torture of inmates.

Minister Ramoeletsi said the inquiry is necessary so that the root cause of the events that transpired can be identified and action taken. He undertook to implement recommendations that would be made by the inquiry so that similar events do not happen again in future. “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.

He 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 by using unauthorized tools. 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 injury of some. 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 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.”

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