A fortnight ago, one person was allegedly tortured to death by police in Mafeteng while three other cases of police ruthlessness were reported in different parts of the country that same period.
The incidents occurred shortly after the Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu had announced that the government had tasked ministers ‘Mamoipone Senauoane (Police and Public Safety) and Prince Maliehe (Defence and National Security) to investigate allegations of police brutality. Their findings would determine if a broader commission of inquiry was necessary, Mr Mokhothu said.
Analysts say the latest developments shows that police brutality against civilians is actually increasing despite government efforts to end the scourge, thus urging the government to do more including identifying and prosecuting perpetrators.
They warn that failure to decisively deal with police brutality will grind down public confidence in the force. It will also earn the country the unenviable tag of a repressive police state which wilfully violates the key tenets of democracy including respect for human rights and the rule of law.
The analysts further warn of far-reaching consequences including the loss of development assistance vital for economic growth.
Police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, has since confirmed the death of the suspect after torture by police in Mafeteng two weeks ago promising to give a detailed statement on the issue once the police completes investigations into the matter.
Apart from the Mafeteng incident, three other cases of police brutality were reported in other parts of the country.
In another case, a Quthing man, Seabata Mohlabula, has become bedridden in hospital after he was allegedly tortured by police officers to force him to confess to stealing money.
Mr Mohlabula said he and his friend were summoned to the Quthing police post and threatened with death if they did not “cooperate with the police”.
The cases are merely the latest in the long line of incidents that have tainted the image of the police force under the command of Commissioner Holomo Molibeli.
Commissioner Molibeli assumed the reins in August 2017. Despite getting off to a good start with the arrests of suspects in the 2016 murder of Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng and the arraignment of former army commander Tlali Kamoli for murder and other human rights violations, Commissioner Molibeli appears to have gone out of bounce.
Some of the worst cases of brutality against citizens have been recorded under his watch.
Last year, Lesotho and the world reacted with shock and horror to reports that the police tortured Kabelo Ratia until he soiled himself then forced him to eat his own faeces.
Mr Ratia had been arrested for allegedly stealing M30 000 from a local businessman. During his detention Mr Ratia was allegedly subjected to horrific torment and forced to incriminate others in the alleged theft of the businessman’s money.
“If anything, the police under Molibeli’s watch are giving the middle finger to the nation and anyone complaining about their rogue behaviour,” said an analyst, Lebohang Sello.
“It is good that the government has announced measures to deal with the scourge of police brutality.
“Deputy Prime Minister Mokhothu says the police and defence ministers have been tasked to deal with the issue but the proof of pudding is in the eating. We will only celebrate when we see the results. Ntate (former Prime Minister Thomas) Thabane also said the same thing last year when his government came under intense pressure for failing to deal with police brutality.
National University of Lesotho (NUL) political science lecturer, Tlohang Letsie, concurred saying government efforts were inadequate and much more needed to be done urgently to deal with the scourge of police brutality.
Dr Letsie said as a democracy, Lesotho’s individual rights and freedoms are provided for in the constitution “but the actions of the police are not in line with the rule of law and this does not reflect well on the police in the eyes of the people”.
“So much has been said about police brutality for some years now by the government and some political parties but very little has been done to address the problem. Mr Mokhothu’s Democratic Congress (DC) even compiled a list of 70 victims of police brutality when it was still in opposition.
“But up to now, there hasn’t been a significant number of police officers who have been arrested and charged. It is therefore easy to conclude that the government is not doing enough.
“The African Union (AU) has complained about police brutality in Lesotho. SADC has complained, the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) government have all complained. Consistently ignoring such complaints could result in us being ostracised and becoming a pariah state. More significantly we could lose development assistance from international development partners,” Mr Sello said.
The United States government has also warned that it could freeze development assistance to Lesotho if the government did not rein in rogue police officers.
Liberty Pazvakawambwa SADC News