BEREA — They were made to passionately French kiss each other, bite each other’s buttocks and roll in the mud.
They were kicked and slapped on their faces.
They were all suspected of having had a hand in the brutal murder of an elderly woman and her grandchild in Ha Makebe, about 30 kilometres south of the capital Maseru, sometime last year.
It is suspected the two were beaten to death before their house was set on fire.
The deceased’s charred remains were found by the police the morning after.
But on January 9 this year, all hell broke loose after the police stormed Ha Makebe and the neighbouring village of Liphiring in the wee hours of the morning in a military-style raid to catch the suspects.
Villagers who this week spoke to the Lesotho Times were, more than a month later, still so traumatised that they refused to speak on record to this newspaper.
They say they went through unspeakable acts of torture during the interrogation on that ill-fated morning.
One villager from Ha Makebe, Teboho, (not his real name), says he woke up early on the morning of January 9 and prepared to go and attend to his field.
At around 4am he says he was already working in his field when a neighbour in a passing taxi asked him if he knew of a meeting that was taking place in the village.
“I thought maybe the meeting had been called to discuss issues regarding our livestock and the issuance of letters of certification,” Teboho says.
He says he quickly rushed back home to be part of the meeting.
But the mood was far from what he had anticipated, he says.
Armed police officers were moving from house-to-house collecting all the men of the village for the meeting.
“We gathered on an open space near the chief’s home.
“It was only then that we learned that the police were looking for suspects of last year’s murder,” he says.
When no one volunteered information, the police moved the men out of the village, he says.
“They said we had to move out of the village to carry on with our discussions.
“Even then we did not suspect that things could turn that bad.
“We were even singing (Basotho) men’s songs,” he continues.
As soon as we moved out of the village, the mood swiftly changed, he says.
We were ordered to lie down, he says.
“A police officer shouted “fatše banna” (go down). When no one moved they shouted again fatše lisatane (down Satan), and there was a gunshot. We all went down on our stomachs,” he says.
“We were told to roll down in a field full of thorns. They kicked us with boots as we rolled.
“They said they would not stop until we had told them who had killed the two,” he says.
Another man who also requested anonymity says they were forced to roll down a small cliff.
The pain was excruciating, he says.
“When we reached the end of the field with so much difficulty and pain we thought it was over.
“Some of us started asking for forgiveness; we also promised them that we would help the police to find the criminals.
“Others tried to convince them that they were not around the villages when the crimes occurred,” he says.
But the police officers would have none of that, he says.
He says they were then forced to go up again and roll down again.
“There was a gunshot every now and then to scarce us.
“Our bodies were in pain and when we could not roll up the field they kicked us all over our bodies.
“The torture only stopped briefly when some of us started having complications. Some fainted while others began vomiting,” he says.
He says he thought the torture had ended, but the police simply changed tactics.
He says the men were then told to “propose love” to the female officers.
“But when we did, these young women slapped us on the faces.
“It hurt badly when you realised that you were being tortured by a girl or a boy much younger than you,” one of the men said.
“We were then ordered to jump back and forth in the field. When our painful bodies could no longer respond we were kicked again and threatened with guns,” he says.
But what was more embarrassing was to see their chief, 59-year-old Neo Mocase, being slapped and bullied into joining the men.
“Ntate Mocase had come at the scene after he had been informed that we were being tortured by the police.
“When they (police officers) saw him coming from a distance they told him to hurry up.
“He was slapped on the face as soon as he arrived.
“He tried to ask what was happening but they harshly told him to take off a blanket he was wearing to join us.
“When he did, they laughed at him, telling him that he was wrinkled. We were all so embarrassed to see someone we respected being treated like that,” he said.
The men from Liphiring say they were lucky because unlike their counterparts in Ha Makebe they had not been made to kiss each other.
“Imagine a man kissing another man or biting their buttocks.
“Did the police have to treat us like that? We will never trust them. They have tainted the good relations we had with them.
“We will never inform them even when we have information on suspects because we are also still looking for these criminals,” one of the men said.
They also allege that two men were beaten badly because they were wearing Democratic Congress party regalia.
The chief’s wife, ‘Macobone Mocase, says the police had no right to torture the men like they did.
“They should have tried to build good relations with them so that they could work together to find the criminals. Beating and harassing people like that has ruined everything.
“Criminals are now going to take advantage of the ruined relations and commit more murders,” says Mocase.
Thuso Ramabolu, from the civic rights group Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Lesotho, says they are currently investigating the police for violating people’s human rights.
“We have heard stories of how men were harassed in Ha Makebe and were forced to kiss one another.
“The investigation also touched on cases like an incident in Mafeteng where a man was tortured to death at one police station. There are many other cases,” Ramabolu says.
The report on the investigation is expected to be out soon, he says.
Police spokesperson Senior Inspector Masupha Masupha says the police do not encourage the use of torture against crime suspects.
“There are some police officers who may exceed the power that they are given in finding information that can help them arrest suspects. In such incidents legal action can be taken against such officers,” says Masupha.
He says that in the case of the Ha Makebe villagers only five men had opened cases against the police officers.
“Police officers were sent to investigate the Ha Makebe incident but only five men came forward. None of the men has ever opened a case against police for forcing them to kiss each other. Investigations are still going on in the five cases.”