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Chronicles of torture unveiled

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  • Minister’s testimony reveals disturbing events

Ntsoaki Motaung

The Minister of Law and Justice, Richard Ramoeletsi, has laid bare the abuse of inmates and apparent cover-up within the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS).

Appearing before the Commission of Inquiry this week, Ramoeletsi provided what might be evidence of torture and the disturbing death of an inmate. His testimony contradicted official accounts and exposed what some commentators have said is a culture of brutality and impunity.

Ramoeletsi’s testimony painted a grim picture, starkly different from the sanitised narrative provided to him by Commissioner of LCS, Mating Nkakane.

“The footage from the security cameras showed a different story from what the Commissioner told me,” Ramoeletsi revealed.

He said according to Nkakane, a group of 46 inmates, including members of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF), were allegedly tortured and injured during a cell inspection on December 22, 2023. He told the commission that Nkakane claimed the inmates resisted the search, necessitating the use of force.

However, Ramoeletsi’s own account shattered this facade.

“On the 10th of January 2024, I was called to come and rescue the footage before it was tempered with. But when we looked into the footage with the Commissioner together with the Ombudsmen, I did not see what the Commissioner had told me, that the inmates resisted being searched, instead, they were tortured without provocation,” he said.

“It was as if the recruits were already told to inflict pain on the inmates. Not how it was explained to me by the Commissioner,” he added.

The minister’s revelations did not stop there.

He detailed the gruesome fate of an inmate who had escaped and been recaptured.

“The footage of December 22 shows that one recruit who was recaptured came out of the car at around 2:00 pm without support. But after entering an office, groups of LCS officers took turns entering and exiting. Later, the same inmate came out looking tortured. He was taken to Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) where he was later declared dead,” Ramoeletsi recounted.

During the proceedings, the evidence leader, Advocate Sekati Makhele, brought to the minister’s attention the troubling allegation that not just one, but two inmates had died.

“It is alleged that an inmate passed away on the 22nd of December 2023, and another a month later on the 23rd of January 2024. Are you aware of this?” he asked.

Minister Ramoeletsi responded: “I am only aware of the inmate who died on the 22nd of December and another inmate who is reported to be paralyzed as a result of torture.”

Lesotho is a member of the United Nations and, by virtue of this membership, the country is obligated to abide by various international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Maputo Protocol.

Meanwhile, Polo Chabane, the Director of the Human Rights Unit in the Ministry of Law and Justice, could not definitively state whether Lesotho complies with the rules and regulations of these international treaties it has ratified.

“I would not say we have not complied generally but when it comes to international laws, we need a specific legislation and I think this is the way the committee against torture wants things to be,” Chabane said.

The commissioner LCS, Nkakala, confirmed that a search was conducted at Maseru Central Prison on December 22, 2023, with the assistance of 114 recruits. He reported that the search did not proceed as planned, and the recruits ended up assaulting the inmates.

“Later that day, I visited the institution with the Minister of Law and Justice. Upon our arrival, we discovered injured inmates, and the Minister instructed that they should be taken to the hospital,” Nkakala said.

He further explained that the security footage from that day revealed that an escaped inmate Bokang Tsoako was recaptured, and upon his return to the institution, he was attacked by a group of LCS staff immediately after exiting the car.

“He was pushed into one of the offices, and later he was taken to the hospital where he was declared dead,” Nkakala stated.

“The death was reported to the police, and investigations are pending to determine the cause of Tsoako’s death and to identify those involved,” he added.

Commissioner Nkakala also admitted that some incidents were not reported to him by the deputy commissioners, which he learned about later.

He emphasised that the duties of a commissioner include ensuring the safe and humane custody of inmates, exercising superintendence, command, and control of the institution, and ensuring that laws and regulations are implemented.

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