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‘Police did nothing sinister’

…as police minister, prosecutor defend and justify police actions around youth protest

Chris Theko

The prosecutor in the case whence 11 youth who were part of last week’s demonstration by the country’s youth on the rampant state of joblessness said police did nothing wrong.

“There is nothing shocking that the police did,” said Advocate Lehlohonolo Phooko for the prosecution.

This after members of the service descended heavy-handedly on the protesting youths who were marching in the capital city from the Moshoeshoe Statue Park to the National Assembly premises armed with rifles, whips and teargas canisters.

Claiming that the youths’ protest was not legal, the police used everyone of their ammunition on the unarmed, defenseless and fleeing youths.

They pelted them with bullets, whipped them to a pulp and even threw teargas canisters at the youths as well as journalists on duty before rounding some of them up, bundling them onto a police truck and arresting them for allegedly being involved in an illegal demonstration as well as not observing set precepts for Covid-19 protection.

This publication’s reporter Ntsoaki Motaung was one of the unlucky ones who were shot at by the agile policemen. She was taken for medical attention where she was treated as an out-patient for minor shot wounds.

In total, some 11 youths were arrested on Friday, spent the week in police custody and appeared before the Maseru Magistrate court on Monday.

Rammatli Phakisi, Thuto Moroahanye, Kahisano Kolobe, Thesele Moshoeshoe, Tumo Tsanyane, Thabiso Kelane, Matela Semoli, Limakatso Tšepe, Tšeliso Metsing, Mahlakesa Mathobo and Mabataung Sehlabo were charged with vandalism for destroying street vendors’ property, disturbing the peace and being part of an illegal march. 

Their case was before Magistrate ‘Makopano Rantšo.

In applying for bail on their behalf, the lawyer for the 11 youth, Advocate Sekoala Makara gave harrowing details of how his clients were subjected the most inhumane treatment during their time in police holding cells. 

Of the 11 who were arrested, four were women some of whom were either on their periods or experienced them while in detention. However, according to Makara, the police who were guarding them during their arrest could not care less about their plight for the weekend they spent in detention.

The police service includes both men and women. 

“They would not allow them to even take a bath and denied them any access to sanitary pads for their menses,” Advocate Makara said.

He told the court that since Friday when they were arrested until Monday when they appeared in court they did not bath at all. 

In response, Prosecutor Phooko did not refute any of the claims by Advocate Makara but strengthened them further by saying that that is the exact treatment one receives for being in a police cell which is not a luxury suite.

“That is a police holding cell, not a hotel, what were they expecting?” Advocate Phooko quipped.

He said the issue of sanitary pads had to be raised with the government not before the court. 

He however did not oppose the defense’s plea for free bail. They were therefore granted free bail and are expected to appear in court on December 14 for set down.      

Their crime; on Friday scores of young people took to the streets of Maseru to protest against high unemployment, Gender Based Violence and other Socio economic ills.  The march was from Moshoeshoe 1 Statue Park to Parliament but was met by heavily armed police officers including the violent, heavily armed specially trained members of the Special Operations Unit (SOU) at the Mpilo Boulevard road. 

A number of protesters mostly young women were left nursing injuries after the police brutally attacked them for demonstrating without a permit. 

Since the Covid-19 outbreak mass protests have not been granted permits by the police who are the permitting authority in such matters, however, other gatherings in particular political rallies have been taking place as if nothing is happening. 

The country’s public health regulations bar people from gathering in large numbers in public especially without observing the set Covi-19 health protocols. But that did not stop the youth whose only bellow is to be heard in the face of an unemployment crisis from taking to the streets despite being denied a permit. 

The Transform Lesotho Initiative (TLI) had heeded a call by youths in the country and spearheaded the protest march to which they called on all youths to support. Police officers reacted by firing teargas, shooting with rubber bullets and even assaulting the young protesters. 

Police Spokesperson Senior Superintend Mpiti Mopeli said the police were forced to disperse the protesters. 

“Their march was illegal hence the police were forced to disperse it immediately,” Mpiti said. 

The intention of the march was to hand over a petition to Prime Minister Dr. Moeketsi Majoro and Speaker of Parliament Sephiri Motanyane.

While most of the protesters failed to make it all the way to Parliament because of the police assault, some did manage to get there including the leader of TLI, Tšolo Kabane. However, their letter of grievances was not delivered to its intended recipients because they were further barred entry onto the parliament premises.

In the petition the protesters demand that both the executive and the legislature decisively act on the country’s high unemployment rate.  They are not happy with the high statistics of GBV and the operations of the National Manpower Developmental Secretariat (NMDS). 

“We demand that unemployment be declared a national state of disaster in line with the appropriate and relevant sections of the Disaster Management Act of 1997. This is to allow the government of Lesotho to be decisive about bringing this monstrous disease to a controllable low.  Government policies should not be biased towards the employment of the youth of Lesotho,” part of the petition reads. 

The petition also indicated that the recent research which shows that 86 percent of women in Lesotho have experienced GBV is worrying. 

Meanwhile, in a public statement released last week police minister ‘Mamoipone Senauoane practically disregarded her charges’ heavy-handed approach of brutally assaulting the youth choosing rather say that the police were maintain the law since “the law must be respected by all at all times”.

She stressed how the youths broke the law by going on an illegal march thus invoking the ‘end justifies means’ mantra. She even went further to defend the police for their brutality when she denied before parliament that anyone had been assaulted by the police during the march saying that “no one went to a hospital and was proven to have been injured”.

Senauoane is one who upon assumption of office a couple of months ago had basically encouraged police to be violent when she made her infamous “ha li ba je” (loosely translated to mean, let them (dogs) devour them (enemies) speech. Ha li ba je, is a Sesotho phrase usually used by owners of dogs when unleashing their beasts onto their enemies for the dogs to devour them. It is therefore largely seen as a call for violence or a sounding for war.

When the minister publicly declared ha li ba je, she came under fire for encouraging police to brutalise suspects at detention oftentimes unto death.

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