Cop owns up to suspect’s torture in custody

RELEBOHILE TSOAMOTSE

MASERU – A Thaba Tseka police officer last Thursday confessed to torturing a suspect in police custody. The startling revelation emerged after a magistrate asked about blood stains on the suspect’s clothes to which the cop responded he had tortured a suspect.

This was after the suspect was on April 21 arrested and detained by the Thaba Tseka police without charge. Khabang Lesuhlo had just returned from the police station when police came looking for him after which they tortured and assaulted him before taking him to the police station.

A magistrate noticed the apparent signs of torture when an attempt was made to detain him further. Lesuhlo’s situation and that of others prompted Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR) to sue on their behalf. The rights organisation said some members of the security agencies continue to torture citizens during the ongoing national lockdown and therefore contends that the said officers should be investigated and suspended from service.

Lesuhlo is the latest victim in a series of incidents involving extra-judicial punishment by police officers in recent years which has come to the attention of regional and international human rights bodies. “…He was taken before the learned Magistrate His Worship Makara who enquired as to why 2nd applicant’s clothes were soiled with blood. The policemen who was escorting 2nd applicant explained to the magistrate that they had assaulted him,” Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR) said in its court papers.

The organisation’s President, Advocate Zwelakhe Mda KC says Lesuhlo was arrested, detained and tortured without a charge as police did not disclose a reason for his arrest and detention to the magistrate. Magistrate Ramokhoro Makara had to decline a police request to further detain Lesuhlo after noticing blood stains on his clothes.

He (Lesuhlo) was taken to court after spending the maximum time provided for by the law (48 hours). He was eventually released after the magistrate declined to remand him but police instructed that he report to police the following day. Lesohlo complied but was told to report yet again the following Monday (April 27).

Advocate Mda says Lesuhlo was threatened not to disclose his encounter with police to the media otherwise something bad would happen to him. As a result, he says the complainant lives in fear after revealing his encounter with police on a local radio station on April 24.

“2nd applicant is apprehensive that when next he reports himself at the Thaba Tseka police station, the officer commanding Thaba Tseka Police station and his colleagues may subject him to worse torture and inhuman treatment than before, especially acting in defiance of his unlawful order not to give interviews to the media about his ill treatment by the police,” Advocate Mda states in his affidavit. His association, LLHR wants the Constitutional Court to protect Lesuhlo and many other citizens against police brutality.

They have asked the court to interdict and restrain officers subordinates to the Commissioner of Police and the Lesotho Defence Force Commander from assaulting and torturing members of the public. LLHR also want the court to direct that police officers implicated in torturing citizens to be arrested and dealt with according to law. Mda narrated a series of reports where citizens’ fundamental human rights were violated and said the court should intervene. He says the rule of law is being undermined by both army and police officers who continue to torture suspects.

In another incident, LLHR says it received a report from one Mamokalasoane Nomo on April 25 about the death of Nomo’s husband, Fusi Nomo in police custody. The deceased is reported to have died in police custody after being arrested. While it is not clear why Fusi was arrested, it is said he had asked for a ride from police on March 26 and found two other people in the police van with whom he was taken to the police station.

According to LLHR, Fusi and other suspects were tortured which resulted in Fusi dying. Police then reported about Fusi’s death to his wife simply saying he felt sick while being interrogated. It is also alleged that police took him to Morija Scott Hospital but his wife says officials at that particular hospital knew nothing about Fusi.

“Police then reported to the widow and Phatelang Nkopane that the deceased fell sick while being interrogated. He was allegedly then rushed to Morija Scott Hospital where he died on the same date. “However, when Nkopane inquired from the hospital officials about the deceased, they did not know anything about him. They did not have any record of the patient. It is clear from the foregoing that after the deceased died at Morija Police station, his body was then taken to Ha Majane Lesotho Funeral Services parlour,” Advocate Mda states in his affidavit.

Mda said the manner in which police are handing Fusi Nomo’s death is an indication of how a number of suspects could have died in the hands of police. “Police brutality has always been a problem within the ranks of LMPS. However, it was not officially sanctioned from the top. However, during 2017 after Prime Minister Thabane took office on diverse occasions at a rally, in an interview with the national television and in parliament he said police should beat thieves or suspects of crime.

“No doubt these statements had an enormous impact on the psyche of police which were already prone to such excesses,” Mda said. He added: “There has been so many violations of suspects while in police custody throughout the country; some have resulted in deaths of suspects. The number of such homicides presently stands at 72 deaths.

“What is alarming and raises serious concern is that the Commissioner of Police and the LDF Commander have never addressed the issue of gruesome murders and torture of suspects in custody.” This is despite a number of court judgments against police brutality. Mda noted that the High Court in 2019 outlined guidelines on how LMPS, prosecutors and magistrates should deal with suspects yet the guidelines have not managed to address the problem because police continue to torture suspects.

“On numerous occasions suspects have appeared before the magistrates showing signs of torture but were sent back to their police torturers. At least I have seen the same thing done by Honourable judges.” This, Mda said, is an indication that LMPS and LDF do not acknowledge their obligation to uphold the rule of law and that the police boss and LDF Commander have not shown a will to hold members accountable.

“It is the duty of government to protect all citizens whether detained or not against any violations of their human rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Lesotho. It is clear from the foregoing that government has not acquitted itself well in this respect,” he said. Government is yet to respond to court papers.

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