‘It seems a broken bone was protruding in his back’

. . . LCS officer testifies about late inmate


MASERU As the late inmate lay helplessly after he was apprehended following his botched attempted prison break, it seemed part of his backbone or rib was protruding on his back.

Senior Rehabilitation Officer ‘Mabakoena Mphou of the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) said this yesterday while testifying at the ongoing inquest into last year’s prison break.

The Commission, led by Justice Realeboha Mathaba, is sitting at the MCCI premises to investigate the incidents that led to six inmates escaping from the prison facility on December 21, 2023.

In the end, all of the prisoners were apprehended at different locations and times, leading to the death of one inmate, with another sustaining two fractured legs.

Other members of the Commission include lawyer and diplomat, King’s Counsel (KC) Kelebone Maope, and retired LCS Commissioner Mojalefa Thulo.

Mphou described to the Commission the scene when she went to the LCS sergeant’s office. She said she found the now deceased Bokang Tsoako tired, helpless, and lying on his side on the floor.

“I found him lying on the floor. When you talked to him, he just stared and communicated with his head. He was in a state of helplessness. I did not know if he was in pain or just wanted to go to the hospital, but I was surprised when he got himself into the wheelchair and sat on it. I did not believe he would stand up,” said Mphou.

While he was moving to the wheelchair, Mphou noticed something unusual about the inmate. “Since he was no longer wearing his top, I observed something bent near his backbone when he sat on the wheelchair. I also saw blood, which probably came from his mouth because it did not look like it came from other parts of his body,” she said. She added that when Seboka Motumi arrived, the officers were filled with emotions.

“When another escapee, Motumi, arrived the officers showed a mix of excitement and anger. They surrounded him, asking questions, and there was confusion as some officers seemed to be stopping others from hitting Motumi with their fists,” said Mphou.

She said it has become common for inmates to be beaten when they have escaped. “It seems like it has become a law that an escaped inmate should be assaulted. While others might say they were angry, I believe it was frustration. Our attitude towards inmates has brought us to this point,” said Mphou. She said inmates are often denied their basic human rights while in the facility.

“We forget that inmates have many rights like any other human being, including freedom from torture and inhumane treatment. The attitudes we harbour against inmates are what have put us here. Footage shows that not every officer is angry, but some display their anger towards inmates,” she said.

Mphou, a member of the LCS entertainment committee that organises parties, noted there were no instructions against officers drinking alcohol.

“I brew alcohol because the officers ask me to. On that day, there were no instructions not to issue alcohol. Station Commander Tsoto Manaka and Senior Superintendent Mahlelebe were in the midst of those drinking although they were not drinking with them. The commotion in my office, where alcohol was brewed, was unusual,” she also said.

She further said the footage shows officers drinking from transparent bottles when Motumi arrived. Most correctional officers admit they should not assault inmates, but it has become a habit. Correctional Officer Ratsetse admitted the facility’s bad habit of assaulting inmates.

“We are not supposed to assault inmates, but it happens regularly in this facility. On December 22, 2023, while on duty, I saw an inmate being pushed and immediately kicked and slapped into the sergeant’s office. Other officers carrying sticks beat him until he was exhausted but was still able to speak. There was no blood from him on the floor, but only that from the previous night,” he said.

Ratsetse said two hours after assaulting Tsoako, Motumi arrived and was pushed into a wheelchair. “I asked him about his escape and then slapped him several times. He was not taken to the sergeant’s office but was hit again when he entered the gate. Before this, I had been drinking because I had just knocked off,” said Ratsetse.

Correctional Officer Mphokothi acknowledged that emotions drive the assault of escaped inmates. “On that day, a Toyota Land Cruiser arrived, driven at high speed, and an inmate was pushed out with such force that when I contacted him, I pushed him without looking. He ended up on the floor, driven by emotions,” he said.

Mphokothi was seen on footage throwing Tsoako against the wall. Correctional Officer Mokiba said alcohol is not the sole cause of assaulting recaptured inmates.

“According to culture, when an escaped inmate is captured, officers lay their hands on them regardless of alcohol involvement,” said Mokiba.

Some correctional officers believe their superiors failed to protect them and the inmates. Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Soatsi, who led the search team for Bokang Tsoako, expected superiors to welcome them with the inmate.

“I expected our superiors to be the first to welcome us with the inmate. ASP Mokhesuoe notified them of the capture, but we did not anticipate the situation that arose upon our return,” said Soatsi.

Correctional Officer Mokiba added that their seniors failed to protect them and the inmates. “Our seniors did not protect us or the inmates. The commanding officer should take proper action because he knows that the officers were angry,” he said.