Police brutality takes toll in Lesotho …as university student is shot dead
By Sechaba Mokhethi
Maseru – Acts of torture, brutality and the arbitrary killing of citizens have heightened in Lesotho after a police officer on the night of April 28 in Roma shot and killed a National University of Lesotho (NUL) student at a restaurant near the university main gate.
The country woke to the shocking reports of the student’s death on Saturday with her pictures trending on social media platforms depicting her lifeless body lying on the restaurant’s floor, with blood oozing from her seemingly smashed jawbone.
Tumelo Mohlomi (24), a fourth year development studies student at the university, died instantly from gunshot wounds, fellow learners who were at the scene narrated.
One eye-witness told this paper that Mohlomi was shot in the face while sitting in the restaurant opposite the university’s main gate by a police officer – bringing to two the number of students shot and killed by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) under the administration of outgoing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
Matšeliso Thulo, daughter of former Lesotho Correctional Service commissioner, Mojalefa Thulo, was shot dead by the police during a students’ strike in 2009. The police claimed she had been trampled in a stampede during the strike, but evidence proved otherwise.
According to an LMPS statement issued on Saturday following the callous murder of Mohlomi “on the night of April 28 around 22:00 hours, Roma police officers were on an operation to close bars that were unlawfully running (at night). The suspicion is a shooting occurred during the operation and a girl aged 24 and from Qacha’s Nek district lost her life during the incident.”
The police have initiated investigations to find out what really transpired but according to their statement, one police officer who is alleged to have had a hand in this death has been arrested.
The LMPS promised it would keep the public updated as the investigations unfolded. However, the same institution remains mum on investigations in other arbitrary killings (noted downwards) alleged to have been carried out by its own officers.
Recently, Thato Makara, a body guard of opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) youth league president Thuso Litjobo, narrated his torture at the hands of the police in the High Court of Lesotho.
As he related the ordeal, Makara said he was shackled and handcuffed, forced to undress and assaulted with sticks, suffocated and coerced to implicate his boss, Litjobo, in the killing of one AD member during the party’s primary elections in Koro-Koro constituency.
Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi, who presided over the case, said “I am convinced that you were indeed tortured”.
Early April one NUL student was shot and hospitalised as the students protested over fees payment by government and the police responded by dispersing the rioting students with rubber bullets and water cannons.
The strike forced a temporary shutdown of the university, and Mohlomi’s shooting comes days after reopening and has aggravated the situation as students are now divided on whether they should resume classes or continue their boycott despite a decision reached through a referendum that they should go back to class.
In February, the Lesotho Electricity Company chief auditor, Thibello Nteso, was shot dead by police officers in the capital Maseru.
The police said the shooting resulted from a quarrel between the deceased and Special Operation Unit officers.
The brutality of the LMPS has attracted attention from international researchers, Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) 2016 report attests to Lesotho’s rising police brutality with the number of victims said to have increased significantly since the change of regime in 2015.
The BTI said the government is paying hundreds of thousands of US dollars annually in compensation to people who have been tortured by police.
Since Mosisili assumed power in 2015, his regime has been marred with violation of human rights by elements from Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and the LMPS, most of the incidents politically motivated.
The country’s 2016 Human Rights Report by United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour revealed that torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment and punishment by LDF members, police torture, and societal abuse of women and children were the most significant human rights problems in the country.
“The government did not take steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, although the army reportedly surrendered two soldiers implicated in a murder without political implications to police. Impunity remained a significant problem,” says the report.
In support of this view, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) sponsored commission of inquiry found, in 2015, that there is deep rooted politicisation of the security sector especially the LDF and LMPS as “it was witnessed that some members of the said institutions actively participated in politics”.
The inquiry, therefore, recommended reform of these institutions as a way to restore stability in Lesotho.
However, the outgoing government removed through a vote of no confidence has in part derailed and delayed implementation of these reforms despite their “claimed” commitment.