MASERU — Police Commissioner, Kizito Mhlakaza faces arrest by the military for contempt of court.
The Lesotho Defence Force commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and the military police boss Colonel Phoka Nkeli were served with a High Court order to arrest Mhlakaza on Tuesday.
The order was issued by Justice ’Maseforo Mahase. This was after Mhlakaza allegedly defied the judge’s order on Monday directing him to release Eyob Belay Asemie, a 34-year-old Mosotho man of Ethiopian origin, who was arrested on Sunday.
Police raided Asemie’s Thetsane house last Saturday despite the fact that they did not have a search warrant.
He was then arrested on Sunday but no charges were laid against him.
On Monday Justice Mahase ordered that he be released but Mhlakaza allegedly ordered that Asemie be kept in custody.
On Tuesday Asemie’s lawyer, Tekane Maqakachane, then got an interim order from Justice Mahase directing that Mhlakaza be arrested for contempt of court.
The order says the military police should arrest the commissioner because junior police officers might be afraid to do so.
Mhlakaza is expected to appear before Justice Mahase on Thursday next week to answer charges of contempt of court.
Court papers show that Mhlakaza allegedly ordered his subordinates to keep Asemie in custody “until he otherwise directed” despite that the court order demanded his immediate release.
The Lesotho Times has been informed that Asemie “escaped” from police custody on Monday afternoon as his lawyer was filing a contempt of court charge against the commissioner.
Advocate Maqakachane however told the Lesotho Times on Tuesday that Asemie’s whereabouts were not known.
“We want him from the police because the last time we saw him he was in their unlawful custody,” Maqakachane said.
“We would understand if they said he was released as per the court order but they say he escaped. Are they expecting us to believe that tosh (rubbish)?” he said.
In his affidavit Asemie says the order for his release was received by a police lawyer, one Advocate Ntsane, who immediately informed Mhlakaza.
He says the commissioner “in my presence and where I was hearing the communication directed and ordered Advocate Ntsane not to release me until further notice”.
After that, Asemie says, Mhlakaza ignored calls from the officers and Maqakachane.
Maqakachane left the police station after unsuccessful calls to Mhlakaza and went to the High Court to seek an order for the
Asemie had been arrested on Sunday night, a day after about 30 officers from the Special Operations Unit raided his house.
The police, led by an officer only identified as Loke, arrived at his home at around 10 at night and demanded to search his house.
“I informed them that I needed my lawyer to be present. They did not tell me what offence the search was in connection with,” Asemie said in court papers.
“When my legal representative, Adv Maqakachane arrived, he demanded from them whether they had any search warrant to which they replied that they did not have,” he said.
“When they persisted in their efforts to enter and search my house, and aware that they might break and forcefully enter my house, I ordered my wife to open the door.”
The police’s search lasted until 1am on Monday morning but they did not find anything.
At 6am they went back to his house and he called Maqakachane again, who told them that he would take him to the police station at 8am.
Asemie says at the police headquarters he was asked “general questions relating to one lady I knew to be Israel Wondafrash, my Lesotho passport, and other general information about my family”.
“I requested to be informed about why I should report myself at the police station but once again I was never informed of anything nor any offence I might have committed,” he said.
He says at 1pm he was called into an assistant commissioner’s office where he was told, in Maqakachane’s presence, that Mhlakaza had ordered that he should not be released until he so directed.
That was when Maqakachane went to the High Court seeking an order to release him, which Mhlakaza disobeyed.
Asemie says he spent Monday night at the police station and the next morning no officer attended to him.
He says Mhlakaza was not answering calls from anybody until at noon when Maqakachane moved a contempt of court application.
Asemie arrived in Lesotho as an Ethiopian refugee in 2003.
His trouble started when he applied for Lesotho citizenship.
Asemie says he was due to be sworn-in as a Lesotho citizen together with 12 other foreigners early this year by the then Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla but that attempt was foiled.
He claims his name was struck off the roll at the last minute under controversial circumstances.
This was in spite of a recommendation last December by the Ombudsman Alina Fanana that he be granted citizenship.
Asemie accuses the National Security Service, police, senior home affairs officials and the Commissioner of Refugees, Mohlolo Lerotholi, of thwarting his bid for citizenship.
Asemie says he first attempted to acquire Lesotho citizenship in August 2010 but when he entered the hall where the ceremony was being held he was ordered out “or the police would be called to throw me out”.
He says he then tried again last March but officials at the immigration department struck his name off the list.
According to the Ombudsman’s report released in December, Asemie has been denied citizenship because he was suspected of trafficking Pakistanis and some north Africans into Lesotho.
He denies the charges.
He told this paper then that he was not involved in human trafficking.
In July the Commissioner of Refugees, Mohlolo Lerotholi, complained to MoAfrika FM radio station about an Ethiopian who he said had acquired Lesotho citizenship fraudulently and is possibly associated with human trafficking.
Although Lerotholi did not mention him by name this paper is aware that Asemie is the only Ethiopian refugee who has been accused of human trafficking.
Days after Lerotholi’s statements Prime Minister Thomas Thabane said the government will deport a “Mosotho man of Ethiopian origin if it is established that he is involved in criminal activities”.
Thabane was responding to a question at a press conference when he said the Ethiopian should “go into hiding immediately” because he (Thabane) hated crime.
He said his government will not hesitate to deport the man if it is proven that he is involved in crime.
“I am told that his matters are in the courts,” Thabane said.
“I hate crime with all my heart. This man, if indeed he is found to be committing the said crimes, should be deported,” he said.