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Hold the police accountable



THE brutal murder of a 28-year-old security guard, Tšeliso Sekonyela, while in police custody is yet another indictment on the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS). Sekonyela was detained by the police following some alleged theft of alcohol at a shop he was guarding overnight. It would appear that Sekonyela was thoroughly beaten and tortured as the police sought to extract a confession from him. He died in police custody. But the police never owned up to what they had done but instead nicodemously took his body to the morgue and dumped it there. When his mother began frantically looking for him, she was given a run-around with the police telling her that her son was alive and was in hospital. The old woman should not have been subjected to such mental torture. Several weeks after Sekonyela was murdered, there has been no apology to the family from the police bosses. His killers have not been arrested. But this is not the first time that suspects have died in police custody. This happens routinely in Lesotho, and life goes on. We have known for decades that our police have always used brutal tactics to extract confessions from suspects. This is well documented. There is irrefutable evidence to that effect. We would like to believe that the time has come for Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli to address questions surrounding the use of torture by his officers. However, if he fails to do so, serious questions must be raised about his suitability to continue to hold office. We know that there are growing calls from some political parties for Commissioner Molibeli to be relieved of his duties. They want him out because they think he is too close to certain politicians. But that is not our focus. We would want him taken to task over the manner he has presided over issues of human rights abuses in Lesotho. He also should be judged on the basis of whether he has the will and stamina to change the human rights culture within the police. The verdict so far is that he still has a long way to go in convincing Basotho that he has the capacity to change the thuggish culture among his lieutenants within the police. The Sekonyela murder is yet another vivid reminder of what we are talking about. For decades, the police have exhibited, with no sense of shame, authoritarian tendencies where the rights of citizens were trampled without any tinge of conscience. This must now change. It will require a fundamental shift in attitudes from the lowest ranked police officer right to Commissioner Molibeli. We would like to think that policing must be done within the framework of a human rights culture. The sanctity of life must be respected. The murder of Sekonyela must trigger some soul-searching within the police. Basotho should not be placated by mere promises by police bosses that “we are investigating” the matter. That is not good enough. Any police officer who is accused of human rights violations must face the full wrath of the law. They must be held accountable for their actions. We must address the lack of accountability that we have seen over the years. It is that lack of accountability that has emboldened the police to continue wreaking havoc in society. Instead of the police coming clean when “investigations” go wrong, they are emboldened to embark on a cover-up. This too is a consequence of the lack of accountability within our police. This too must change.

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