Detainees’ wives plead for justice

Detainees’ wives plead for justice

MASERU- THE families of soldiers and policemen in custody for various crimes are worried that their relatives will not get fair trials.
In a detailed letter to the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, a human rights group, the families raise concerns about the treatment of their relatives in custody.
The letter was written by 34 families, including that of detained former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli.
It was copied to the SADC Secretariat and the SADC’s facilitator to Lesotho, Justice Dikgang Moseneke. Also copied are embassies in Lesotho, local NGOs and other international organisations like the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.
The families raise questions about the fairness of the process that led to the arrest of the soldiers and police officers, their torture while in custody and alleged attempts to force them to turn state witnesses.

Concisely written, the letter reads like a charge sheet against the government. It meticulously chips at the government’s evidence and narrative against the soldiers and policemen.
It starts by pointing out that there is evidence the arrests and charges are ‘politically motivated’. There is a campaign to arrest soldiers and police officers allegedly associated with the previous government, the families say.
“In this campaign, the deaths of late Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao, Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko and Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng have been given a priority and much publicity by the LMPS with a heavy dose of political support from the government and different structures of political parties forming this coalition government.”
They say they are surprised that the government has been quick to pursue those accused of those crimes but seems reluctant to treat recent cases of murder with urgency.
They point to more than 30 cases of murder they allege were committed by police officers who remain in their jobs.
“What is most difficult if not impossible to understand is that all the suspects in these killings are well-known police officers who are continuing to carry out their duties within the LMPS ranks as if nothing had happened.”

“It is our understanding that the Commissioner of Police, together with the suspected Police Officers would be arrested and charged with murder, just like it has happened with Lt. General Kamoli. Failure to do so, gives the impression that there is a merit that is used as a barometer by the LMPS to arrest suspects and to investigate the deaths of citizens.”
That the police officers and the commissioner have not been arrested indicates that the government is selectively applying the law.

“Why is it that criminal cases involving supporters of this government are not investigated? “Some members of LDF, whom some deserted while others went into hiding with politicians after they were charged with mutiny, have been pardoned, compensated, reinstated and promoted without regard to LDF Act and other laws in the country.”
The families question why the death of Lipolelo Thabane, the slain wife of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, has not been investigated.
They claim that they were reliably informed that their relatives have been tortured to confess and incriminate themselves. This ill-treatment, they say, has continued as the soldiers and police officers endure years in detention while the state deliberately delays their trials.

The result, the families claim, is that they are incurring huge legal costs that eat into family incomes.
“The accused have been denied their constitutional right to be released on bail on very vague reasons such as that the complainants are afraid of them and that their exceptional circumstances are not exceptional circumstances.”

“The longer the accused persons stay in prison, the more their constitutional rights are being violated such as the right to presumption of innocence and right to a fair hearing. They are being incarcerated as if they have already been found guilty.”
The families also raise concerns about the decision to appoint foreign judges to preside over the case. They say there is nothing peculiar about murder and attempted cases to warrant the appointment of foreign judges.

“The insistence of the government to appoint foreign judges makes us believe that its intentions are sinister as we fail to find a particular reason for the need to have foreign judges.”
“Judging from the government’s insistence that there be foreign judges to preside over these cases, we are of the opinion that these judges are intended to deliver sentences that are preferred by the government over the accused and the interests of justice.”

They also question the impartiality of Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase whose husband they claim has a checkered past because of his brushes with the law.
They say her husband was involved in the 2007 political disturbances.
And some of the soldiers “were working in the Military Intelligence and Special Forces were the ones that stopped that insurgency, high treason and recovered those weapons from the Acting Chief Justice’s home”.

Her husband is one of those accused of leading alleged attacks on ministers’ homes. He fled to South Africa where he remained for years before he was allowed back home in 2012 when Thabane led the first coalition to power. The families ask why the government did not establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the death of Lt General Khoantle Motsomotso, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.

They say instead of launching an investigation “a major and two captains who were not present when the shooting happened were arrested and charged with murder and mutiny”.
They also demand to know why Major General Ramanka Mokaloba and Major General Lineo Poopa have not been charged despite being in the military’s top brass between 2014 and 2017 when the soldiers are accused of committing the crimes.

“If Lt Gen Kamoli is being charged for crimes committed by soldiers during that time, then it follows that those who were in leadership with him should be charged as well,” says the families.
Major General Mokaloba, they allege, was in charge of military operations but has now turned state witness instead of being charged.
“There has not been anywhere in the world where a senior gives commands to which the junior follows and obeys and later on, that junior is charged and the senior becomes a state witness.”
They claim that Major General Poopa was the chief of staff between 2014 and 2017 but has become a state witness and has been given a diplomatic post instead of being charged.

The families say they are worried that the soldiers and policemen will not get fair trials and will remain in custody while the government looks for foreign judges.
They say while in custody their rights are being violated as they are tortured and denied visitation rights.
They want international organisations to investigate allegations that:

l The accused have been tortured

l They have been treated inhumanely

l They have been denied bail. Recently their right to bail is being attached a condition that their bail would not be opposed if they turn into state witnesses

l They are denied their freedom of association

l They are being unnecessarily denied the freedom of liberty and movement

l Their right to family life is being unnecessarily tampered with

l Their right to a fair hearing is also being tampered with.

Staff Reporter

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