A brigadier’s 660 days of horror

A brigadier’s 660 days of horror

MASERU – BRIGADIER Poqa Motoa, one of the dozens of soldiers who spent several months in prison after being accused of mutiny, has recounted the harrowing details of his torture and detention.
In an exclusive interview with thepost Brig Motoa said although he has been reunited with his family he remains traumatised by the brutal torture he suffered at the hands of his fellow soldiers.

He is the first of the 24 mutiny suspects to give an interview to a newspaper. Sometimes he stumbled on his words as emotions overwhelmed him.
His troubles started when he was arrested while at work on June 1, 2015.
That dreadful ordeal would continue until his release 21 months later in March this year.

His crime, according to the army, was that he was part of a group of soldiers who had allegedly planned to kill the then army boss Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and several other senior officers.
The army alleged that the plan was to replace Lt Gen Kamoli with Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao.

Brig Motoa said from the barracks he was taken to Setibing, a military base at the foot of Machache Mountain, about 40 kilometres south-east of Maseru.
There his hands and legs were tied and fastened to his back before the torture started. He said he could not believe these were fellow soldiers who were subjecting him to such cruelty.

“They took me to Setibing where I went through inhumane torture,” he said.
He said his agony continued for the whole week he was at Setibing. If he was not being beaten he was being incessantly doused with cold water.
“This was brutality at its best,” he said.

The idea was to make sure they don’t sleep. Temperatures in June sometimes drop to as low as -10 degrees in some parts of the country. He was repeatedly interrogated and forced to confess that he was part of the mutiny plot.
He said he kept denying the allegations but the soldiers would not relent even as he pleaded with them to stop.
“My detention by my fellow colleagues was just unbearable,” Brig Motoa said.

His torturers were his junior soldiers who had no power to either arrest or interrogate him under military protocol.
The more he denied the allegations the more the soldiers tortured him, he said. After a week he was brought to Maseru to be locked up at the Maseru Maximum Security Prison.

“We were in solitary confinement and always under heavy guard.”
They were in solitary confinement for the first 51 days.
“We were always subjected to all sorts of abuse by our fellow colleagues,” he said.
“We were also insulted by our guards, those young and older.”

“And that was our daily routine.” Meal times were rough and short, as they were hurried to finish eating and the food was bad. Their only reprieve per day was a five-minute break they were granted to meet their visiting relatives.
Radio, TV and newspapers were banned for the first six months.

The army had cleared the library of every book apart from the Bible which they were ordered to read.
“We were always chained on the feet and our faces covered,” he said. “Those were the roughest days of our lives.”
He said with time they began to realise that being forced to read the Bible was a blessing in disguise.
“It became our source of strength and hope. In times of sorrow we would read the Bible.”
Brig Motoa said he read the whole Bible twice.
“The second time I was just confirming some of the things that I had not understood.”
He said what made it bearable was knowing that the charges had been “trumped up to damage my reputation”.
“It was fabricated information.”

“Our answer lay in the Bible because it clearly states that no lie shall ever stand.”
He said from the day they saw the charge sheet they knew that the army’s case would eventually crumble.
“You could see that these were things that some people had been forced to say against us. That is why they kept torturing us to confess. There was no case in the first place so they had to create one by forcing us to confess.”

“We knew these were just lies.” Human rights lobby groups have always maintained that the charges were a politically motivated purge of the perceived opponents by the military command.
A SADC appointed commission also questioned the charges, saying it is highly unlikely that there was ever a mutiny.

The commission recommended that the soldiers be released under an amnesty but the army and the government refused to budge even as international pressure mounted. The army has insisted that the soldiers have a case to answer.
Brig Motoa said “it is time to pray and uproot the brutality in Lesotho and to ensure that Basotho live in harmony and tranquility”.

Brig Motoa and other mutiny accused soldiers were released late last year as Pakalitha Mosisili’s government yielded to domestic and international pressure. However, they are still accused of plotting a mutiny because the charges are yet to be dropped.
They were under open arrest, what in civilian court is called bail.

Majara Molupe

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