Shabby prosecution of Covid law breakers

RELEBOHILE TSOAMOTSE

MASERU – Despite numerous incidences of the contravention of set COVID-19 lockdown regulations, the state has up to date only pursued 38 cases, at least in Maseru. The court registered only 35 cases in 2020 with only eight being finalized. The Maseru Magistrate Court Information Officer, ‘Mampota Phakoe, told Public Eye in an interview that only eight cases were disposed; and in all the eight cases the sentences were suspended.

There were other eight accused persons who attended a church service in contravention of the regulations and were each fined M500 and given two months to pay. “Most of these cases were not disposed for different reasons, some are still said to be under the investigation,” Phakoe said. She also stated that the court has this year only recorded three Covid related cases and they are all yet to be determined.

April 3, 2020, saw a Semphethenyane man suffer severe fractures on his arms and a leg in what was said to be the worst case of brutality during the country’s first lockdown. Thabang Mohlabisa was severely tortured by a Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) member who was supposed to be enforcing lockdown regulations in the area. Then Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane had just declared a State of Emergency with police and army deployed to enforce the regulations.

The lockdown was imposed in a bid to contain the spread of the virus but a legal instrument permitting such was only issued and effected on April 29, 2020. Public Health Regulations were enacted as a guiding law to enforce the regulations.

The regulations primarily restrict movement of people from a place of their residence to any other place other than getting essentials during a lockdown. Schools, sports and entertainment were some of the activities prohibited. According to the regulations, those found to be in contravention are committing an offence and should be dealt with according to the law.

Failing to wear a face mask in public, convening public gatherings, selling or buying liquor, a funeral failing to comply with 50 persons per service are offences according the Public Health Regulations and punishable.

Government even ordered chiefs, councilors and community leaders such as pastors to ensure compliance with the regulations. According to the regulations, area chiefs, priests together with families responsible for organizing funerals failing to comply with the regulations risk imprisonment and could be fined M5 000 upon conviction.

In the past weeks, youth activists have called on the police to cease the selective application of the law. This after mourners at the state funeral for the former army boss, Major General Metsing Lekhanya, contravened the Public Health Regulations.

General Lekhanya’s funeral was attended by a crowd higher than the 50 persons’ margin provided for by the law – the Public Health Regulations. In attendance were some of cabinet ministers as well as the Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu. No action was taken against attendees or organizers of the said funeral in disregard of the clear laws.

When two youth, Kananelo Boloetse and Motsamai Mokotjo took upon themselves to open a case against those responsible for the funeral, they were dismissed by the police. Police responded that that “no criminal case can be opened because the regulations do not make a provision for state funerals.” They have escalated the matter to the police boss who promised them a meeting. The meeting is yet to happened.

 

 

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