Torture horrors re-lived

Torture horrors re-lived

MASERU – “I was forced to kneel down at a pond and while still trying to kneel down I was pushed in the pond. Its water was smelly. They told me to roll back and forth while some soldiers were kicking, insulting and spitting on me.”
“The torture took long until I felt dizzy and out of breath. One of them stepped on my head causing the water to suffocate me. I suffocated until I felt like I was dying and then they pulled me out.”

Those are the words of Second Lieutenant Mokhothu, one of the 23 soldiers who was arrested and detained for alleged mutiny by the army in 2015.
He was speaking in a powerful but deeply disturbing documentary on the ordeal of the mutiny suspects.
The documentary, Koli Ea Malla (The Dirge), was produced by Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), a human rights group that has been at the forefront of fighting for the mutiny suspects.

Apart from the testimonies of the mutiny suspects the documentary also tells the stories of how their families struggled during the months their fathers were in jail. There are also testimonies from soldiers and individuals who fled into exile during the wave of arrests that continued despite widespread condemnation.

The documentary was screened for the first time at the TRC Hall last week during an emotional hour that saw some in the audience shed tears.
Koli Ea Malla paints a picture of a country that had lost its moral campus during a period of political madness and blatant polarisation. It was a dark period from which the country might take long to recover.

For the victims, their families and relatives the journey to recovery is likely to be much slower.
The victims are yet to recover from the separation from their families, the torture they suffered, the weeks in solitary confinement and months in prison.

Second Lieutenant Mokhothu spent 220 days in prison and for 57 of those he didn’t know his charges. He was arrested while still on duty, blindfolded hand cuffed and his feet shackled.
He says he was taken to the military camp in Setibing, some 40 kilometres south-east of Maseru.

“As muddy as I was, I was taken to a pole nearby and fastened with my hand on my back while being beaten and others pouring water on my back.”
“I stayed there at the pole for quite some time in that cold condition. The military camp is at the foot of the mountain overlooking the place.
It was mid-winter and the temperature was freezing cold.”

Tired, cold and in pain he was taken to a cell where he was forced to sleep on a corrugated iron sheet. Mokhothu says he realised that other victims were also forced to sleep on the sheet before him.
Brigadier Poqa Motoa says he was forced to implicate Public Service Minister Thesele ’Maseribane and former Police Commissioner Khotatso Tšooana in criminal activities.

He says his torturers wanted him to confess that ’Maseribane and Tšooana used to meet him at a hotel to plan mutiny against Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli.
He says they wanted him to say Tšooana and ’Maseribane had pledged to provide the mutineers with guns.
When he refused the beating continued until he agreed to implicate the two.

“I was suffocated with a rubber tube by (Major Pitso) Ramoepana until I almost lost my breath and the pain was unbearable,” Brig. Motoa says.
“By that time Sechele was still kicking my chest asking me whether I knew Machesetsa (Mofomobe, BNP spokesman), (Attorney Khotso) Nthontho and Advocate (’Mole) Kumalo.”

Brig. Motoa says his tormentors said the three were the ones “telling me to be rebellious against Kamoli”.
“I was asked who the commander was and I said it was Mahao as by that he was appointed by PM Thabane. That’s when they suffocated me saying I would tell the truth about who sent us to overthrow Kamoli.”

“Due to pain I said the only commander was Kamoli though he wasn’t but torture made me to admit,” he says.
Colonel Posa Stemmere’s wife, ’Mastemmere, says she will never forget the day her husband was arrested.
Some women in the audience could not hold back their tears as ’Mastemmere narrated her story while sobbing.
“My husband was arrested in front of me at home, he was still wearing night wears (pyjamas),” she says in between sobs.
“There were heavily armed soldiers and one of them was Sechele.”

“They came in our house and told my husband they are going to take him for interrogation but they were not friendly. They handcuffed him. Since I didn’t know what was happening so I asked them to allow him to change his night wears but they denied him that chance. I knelt down trying to plead with them,” she says.

“My baby girl tried to grab her father by the leg during this scary arresting process but they shoved her hard towards me that she nearly fell down.”
She says she did not see her husband until three weeks later in the High Court during a habeas corpus case she had lodged.
“His face had darkened and I thought he had bruises”.
“He didn’t even know how to take off the hat from his head when the judge told him to do so. He said his head was freezing cold.”
“While still trying to explain his torture, the blood came oozing from his nose. The judge even asked if I had brought something that would wipe his blood.”

“He couldn’t stand for a long time without support.”
At that point a sobbing woman in the audience started shouting.
“Kamoli owes me explanation for what happened to my family. These things happened under his command,” she said.
’Makhotso Ranthimo, wife of a soldier who ran away to South Africa, says army authorities evicted her family from their house at Makoanyane Military Barracks.

A relative in Maseru took them in.
She says the army officers told her to leave immediately because her husband was no longer there.
“My life was unbearable. I had no money and our child was expelled from school several times because we delayed to pay school fees.”
Their eight-year-old child, Thato Ranthimo, says since his father fled he did not have school shoes.
“I never attended closing parties at school. I felt neglected,” the boy says.

He says he used to ask his mother if his father was still alive but she would answer him with sobs.
Principal Secretary for the Law Ministry, Advocate ’Mole Kumalo says he fled the country on the day he was going to meet the soldiers because he saw movements that suggested that he was being tailed.

Kumalo, a former soldier who retired from the army as a second lieutenant, was one of the lawyers for the mutiny suspects.
European Union Ambassador Christian Manahl said what happened to those soldiers was a gross violation of human rights.
“The act was morally wrong, how the matter was handled was a total violation of human rights,” Manahl said.
He said the EU is still awaiting Lesotho to push judiciary, economic, constitutional, as well as security reforms as SADC recommended.
Other soldiers who claim to have been tortured were Corporal Tumile and Second Lieutenant Talesi.

Senate Sekotlo

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