Probe exposes correctional flaws



MASERU – An investigation by Ombudsman Advocate Tlotliso Polaki into the torture of prisoners at the Maseru Central Correctional Institution (MCCI) has once again brought to light systematic flaws within the facility. Prominent among these is the fact that staff members of the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) are being incorporated into the system without undergoing the essential training required for correctional officers.

This lack of training is reportedly attributed to financial constraints, leading to a reliance on on-the-job training for most recruits. Even after years within the department, these officers are only receiving rudimentary training, with far-reaching consequences. Shockingly, these same officers were involved in the torture of inmates in December 2023, resulting in the death of Bokang Tsoako and the severe injury of Tlotliso Bereng, along with harm inflicted on several other inmates.

Tsoako was among six inmates who escaped from MCCI in December 2023 but were subsequently re-arrested. He was found and rearrested at an orphanage at Mohalalitoe, Maseru, and subjected to torture upon returning to MCCI, ultimately succumbing to his injuries upon arrival at the hospital. Meanwhile, Bereng, an awaiting trial inmate who had spent barely three weeks in detention, was released on bail due to his disability.

At least 40 officers have been implicated and directly linked to the torture, prompting the Ombudsman to recommend their investigation and subsequent charges. The news of the tortured inmates reverberated throughout the country in December of last year, particularly when it surfaced that nine awaiting trial soldiers had been subjected to torture, with family members and legal representatives barred from visiting them.

This led to a lawsuit to compel authorities to allow visitations and provide medical attention to the tortured soldiers outside the facility. However, the actual situation was more severe than initially reported in the media. An investigation by Advocate Polaki revealed that over 300 inmates had been severely tortured and required medical attention, which they did not receive. “Not less than 300 inmates were afflicted and had been beaten up,” the report states.

Most of these beatings occurred in spots that do not have surveillance cameras and were concealed through false reporting during official interviews. Advocate Polaki’s report refutes the LCS’ claim that the tortured inmates were resisting a routine search for unauthorised materials. Instead, inmates were reportedly assaulted unprovoked, slapped, and aggressively searched in an attempt to instigate altercations. Advocate Polaki further asserts that during her office’s investigation, LCS officers appeared to collude in fabricating false scenarios to justify the abuse.

She suggests that the evidence collected points to a meticulously planned campaign to torture and mistreat inmates, particularly those from the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) awaiting trial. Furthermore, senior officers were reportedly present during the beatings but failed to intervene, highlighting a culture of negligence within MCCI, according to Polaki.

Additionally, certain officers displayed non-cooperation during the investigative process, prompting Advocate Polaki to recommend disciplinary action against them for attempting to provide false testimony and withholding crucial information. These officers include Lehlohonolo Ralebese, Khosi Hlalele, Lehlohonolo Thetso, Lehlohonolo Posholi, Sepiriti Malefane, and Lehlohonolo Moabi.

Advocate Polaki’s findings are detailed in a comprehensive investigation initiated by her office into the allegations of torture and excessive use of force on inmates at the MCCI on December 22, 2023. Systemic issues have led to compromised correctional services, according to Polaki, rendering most facilities unsafe for inmates. This is exacerbated by the continued reliance on outdated prison rules for day-to-day operations.

Furthermore, management decisions are often driven by personal discretion rather than professional standards, further eroding professionalism within the institution. Polaki highlights these factors, along with other human factors, as significantly impacting inmates, who are the primary recipients of correctional services. The prolonged poor working conditions for correctional officers have also fostered a culture of misconduct, with officers engaging in collusion with inmates in illicit activities and sabotaging management efforts. Moreover, the malfunctioning ICT infrastructure undermines security surveillance, further compromising the safety of the facility. Polaki notes inadequate controls to prevent inmate violations, with standards and guidelines governing cell operations, searches, and seizures lacking proper supervision by MCCI supervisors.

Additionally, there is a scarcity of resources at the facility, including stationery, compromising operational standards. Incidents often go unrecorded, and correctional officers are not adequately trained on advancements, international best practices, and evolving laws. Polaki highlights a “code of silence” culture within the institution, where incidents of abusive behaviour by correctional officers towards vulnerable inmates are not reported. Regarding human factors, Polaki identifies abuses of power, unresponsiveness, and dereliction of duty by officers present during inmate violations.

A shortage of staff at MCCI leads to reliance on recruits for search operations during peak times without adequate supervision, as noted by Polaki.

Polaki recommends action against Officers Tololi Ratšele and Motanya for their supervisory roles at the Correctional Services Training School (CSTS). There is also a lack of communication among correctional officers leading search operations, resulting in violations of inmates’ rights, according to Polaki.

She suggests that officers responsible for opening cells, namely Kabelo Liholo and Sechaba Makoara, should be investigated for continuing to expose inmates to torture despite awareness and failing to report the incidents. Those involved in the torture of Tsoako, resulting in his death, should face disciplinary action leading to their removal from office, as per Polaki’s recommendation. The commissioner is directed to urgently promulgate rules and regulations to enforce the Lesotho Correctional Services Act of 2016. Polaki also emphasises the need for clear policies governing cell operations and searches. Despite Polaki finding inmates’ beatings unconstitutional, High Court Judge Mabatšoeneng Hlaele declined to declare them so, citing insufficient evidence and lack of coherence in the presented case.

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