Villagers endure hours of police torture

Villagers endure hours of police torture

MASERU – SCORES of men in a Mafeteng village notorious for gun-related murders and other crimes claim they were tortured by the police during a raid last week.

A police spokesman dismissed the claim, and described the raid as a success.
But residents of Ha-Raliemere village told thepost what happened last Thursday was more than just a raid.

They said they were bludgeoned, kicked with booted feet, dunked in cold water and forced to roll on the ground.

This was after the police’s Special Operations Unit (SOU) had launched a pre-dawn raid on the village to confiscate guns.

The village is infamous for firearm related murders, rape of elderly women staying alone and violent clashes with people from neighbouring communities.

Nestled on a small hill, the vast village is known for some of its residents who allegedly bully passing travellers.

Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said claims that cops tortured some local men were false.

He said the police “successfully launched the raid” that resulted in the arrest of three murder suspects who have already been remanded in custody.
“We were also able to confiscate a firearm and a lot of dagga,” Superintendent Mopeli said, without disclosing the amount of dagga recovered in the village.
Locals have a different story though.

They spoke of a pre-dawn raid that left villagers shaken.
“It was a freezing morning when the incident happened,” said a visibly shaken ’Macolise Setaka, a member of Tšana-Talana community council who was speaking on behalf of other villagers.

She said they were woken up by loud and harsh knocks on their doors. At some homes, doors were broken as the police stormed in, said Setaka.

When the villagers, who were trembling with fear, sought answers “we found out that our guests were fierce and belligerent police officers”.

“Once they opened the doors, they forced their way into the houses demanding to talk to the young men and boys,” she said.

Setaka said the police officers ransacked the houses and drove men to the outskirts of the village where they were assaulted.

“It was only a handful of boys and men who escaped the torture,” she said. Those who managed to escape the ordeal had gained advance knowledge of the impending raid and left before police arrived, she said.

Setaka said those who were driven to the outskirts of the village were taken to a big dam where they were forced to strip naked and swim despite the bitterly cold temperatures.

From the water, they were forced to roll on the ground amid beatings with sticks and whips, she said.
“The police told them if they excreted, they would force them to eat their own faeces,” Setaka said.

The men were severely tortured and many were left limping, she said, adding that some were taken to Mafeteng police but later released without charge.
“Some of the victims were able to see doctors and are in a bad state,” she said. She said her son, who was bedridden due to sickness, was also tortured despite his condition.

The villagers said they are planning to take legal action to hold the perpetrators to account but those efforts have stonewalled because they cannot identify the police officers.

“We do not know the police officers facially,” she said, adding that they reported the matter to their area chief.

She said they also informed the Mafeteng police district commander, who said he did not know of the raid.

Meanwhile, the police launched another raid in Thaba-Tšoeu Ha-Mafa and Ha-Raletooane, also searching for guns.

The raids happened in early hours of last Tuesday.
Supt Mopeli said a feud between the two neighbouring villages is now affecting the provision of basic services, with Ha-Raletooane villagers failing to access health services in Ha-Mafa.

He said Ha-Raletooane villagers are also unable to send their children to school, which is located in Ha-Mafa.

“There is a long history of violence between these villages regarding a dispute over boundaries,” Supt Mopeli said.

There have been people who have been gunned down from both villages because of the historical violence.

These include a Lesotho Evangelical Church of Southern Africa (LECSA)’s clergyman gunned down last year on his way to church.

Regarding the police raid, some villagers said some men saw cars entering the area around 1 am. Suspecting the police, one of them alerted others who escaped to a mountain.

Those who failed to escape were assaulted, said villagers.
The raid happened weeks after a taxi operator in his late 40s, Motoaitoai Makhoalinyane from Ha-Raletooane, survived a gun attack in Ha-Mafa when his 15-seater taxi was sprayed with bullets.

Makhoalinyane was heading back home with his assistant after dropping off passengers when the attackers approached his car from a gravel road.
“In the process I also pulled out my gun but I did not fire any shot,” Makhoalinyane said.

Makhoalinyane said he sped off, but his taxi veered off the road and was stuck in the storm drain.

He said the gun-toting attackers then fled away hoping they had accomplished their mission.

“I believe these people thought they had wiped me away,” said Makhoalinyane, who escaped the attack unscathed.

“One of the suspects is already in police custody,” Makhoalinyane said.
He said the police have informed him that the other two suspects are still at large. Supt Mopeli said the suspect has already appeared in court while police are hunting for the other suspects.

Makhoalinyane said he is now jittery about taking passengers to Ha-Mafa because he is afraid that his attackers might bounce back to kill him.
The violence is not good for business, said Makhoalinyane, who is new to the taxi business and owns two vehicles.

One of his taxis was stoned by people in the same area last year, he said.
Police said they are taking action, including going on public relations campaigns.

Supt Mopeli said one such exercise is a joint public gathering planned for today where the Principal Chiefs of Likhoele and Matsieng will talk to the villagers.

He said the District Administrator will also attend the meeting and help iron out differences between the villagers.

Majara Molupe

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