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Maseru

Inmate expresses fear testifying before commission

Business

Ntsoaki Motaung

An inmate at the Maseru Central Correctional Institution (MCCI) and a member of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Liphapang Sefako, expressed deep apprehension about testifying before the Commission of Inquiry this week.

Sefako, visibly shaken, recounted the circumstances leading to his reluctance to testify publicly saying he was initially willing to testify openly, but after a meeting held with the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) officials, he felt threatened.

He told the commission that a meeting was convened prior to the commencement of the commission, gathering all inmates not engaged in their daily duties. Present at the meeting from the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) were Assistant Commissioner Tsoto Manaka, his deputy Mahlelebe, and several other LCS officials whose identities were unknown to Sefako.

He revealed that prior to the meeting, he had intended to testify publicly. However, following the meeting, he had a change of heart.

“When Deputy Commissioner Manaka addressed us, he made it clear that the commission would interview inmates for their testimonies, emphasising that we would be left alone with them once the commission concluded its proceedings,” Sefako recounted.

“It was after hearing those words that I felt intimidated as an inmate.”

“I have already spent seven years in this facility, and there is a possibility I could be here for another thirty years. So, naturally, I am concerned about what might happen to me based on what the commissioner said,” he expressed.

“Due to these concerns, I have decided not to testify in public. I will be discussing incidents involving LCS officers who assaulted me without knowing the full story. They even chased away my lawyer when they visited me after the assault and denied me other visitors without valid reasons,” Sefako explained, detailing his reasons for opting out of public testimony.

Sefako disclosed that after being assaulted, he endured nearly 28 days without receiving medical attention. He concluded his statement by highlighting the Assistant Commissioner’s alleged misconduct towards him, which he claimed included threats.

Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the Commission, Justice Realeboha Mathaba, emphasised that inmates have the right to decide whether they want their pictures taken or to appear on television, or if they prefer to testify in private.

When prompted to specify his preference, Sefako stated that he did not wish to appear on cameras.

Mathaba expressed his desire to gain clarity on the events of the meeting that may have led to the inmate’s sense of intimidation, emphasising the commission’s expectation for individuals to testify freely.

After their discussion, Mathaba acknowledged that Sefako was not the only one who preferred not to testify publicly but wished for his testimony to be conducted in camera, with only the commission present.

The Evidence Leader, advocate Sekati Makhele, clarified that while he did not engage in direct discussions with Assistant Commissioner Manaka, he did converse with the Commissioner himself regarding assurances for the safety of witnesses, particularly inmates.

“He assured me that today (Monday), they will be meeting with inmates to give them assurance so I am surprised that now instead of assuring them of the security he is threatening them,” Makhele said.

Mathaba adjourned the proceedings for 30 minutes to address the issue, stating that such behaviour undermined the principles of the commission.

Following the half-hour break, the commission decided to postpone Sefako’s testimony until further notice.

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