MASERU – The Lithoteng police are alleged to have severely battered a theft suspect, detained him in holding cells for four days and demanded that his wife pay a bribe to secure his release.
Ts’eliso Thatjane, 25, told the Lesotho Times on Tuesday, a day after his release, that the police used a knobkerrie to hit him on the buttocks and on the back to force him to confess that he had stolen a television set and a DVD player.
Thatjane said the police also suffocated him with a plastic bag until he lost consciousness.
He said the police also dunked his head into a plastic bag full of water until he lost consciousness again.
Midway through his ordeal, Thatjane alleged, a senior police officer who was reeking of alcohol, also joined in the torture.
Thatjane said he handed himself to the police on Thursday because the police had held his wife, ’Masebabatso Thatjane, to “ransom” saying they would only release her if he would surrender himself to them.
The police arrested Thatjane’s wife at a private clinic where she works.
They allegedly told her that they would keep her detained until her husband handed himself to the police.
When Thatjane surrendered, the four-day torture ordeal started.
“The police asked me if I knew anything about the missing TV and a DVD player and when I said I knew nothing one of them threateningly said I would tell them,” Thatjane said.
“A policeman called Ranots’i or Alotsi asked me where I sold the stolen items and I told them that I had not stolen anything. He said I was being stubborn,” he said.
Thatjane said Ranots’i took him to his office where he ordered him to lie on his belly.
“I tried to tell him that beating me would not help because I knew nothing of the stolen things but he did not listen,” Thatjane said.
“About six police recruits entered the office and they took hold of me forcing me to lie down while Ranots’i hit me with a knobkerrie on the buttocks and on my back,” he said.
“I cried out aloud asking them to show mercy but they responded with more violence.”
One of the recruits, he said, used his booted feet to pin his head down while he held his hands so Ranots’i could beat him.
Thatjane said Ranots’i was using a knobkerrie to beat him.
All the while they demanded that he admits to stealing the television and the DVD.
He said when he did not confess a female police officer announced that he “should kiss a black lady”.
The “black lady” turned out to be a black plastic bag which was used to suffocate until he lost consciousness.
When he regained consciousness his tormenters suffocated him with the plastic back again until he passed out for the second time.
While these things were happening Thatjane’s wife ’Masebabatso was outside the police station.
She said she heard her husband weeping and begging for mercy.
“When I heard him crying I stood up and a policewoman who was nearby rebuked me,” ’Masebabatso said.
She said she then went home and hired a lawyer Thabo Lerotholi who immediately contacted the police.
But when she came back to the police station the following day two police officers told her that hiring the lawyer would only make matters worse for her husband.
She alleged that the police officers told her to pay them a bribe instead.
“They asked me how much I was prepared to pay the lawyer and when I told them that I only had M500 at home they said I should give it to them and they would release my husband,” she said.
’Masebabatso said when she brought the money to the police she was in the company of a driver whose car she had hired.
She claims she paid the bribe but the police officers refused to release her husband.
The police officers said they wanted to first destroy some evidence they alleged could implicate Thatjane before releasing him.
They then promised to release him on Saturday but when she went back to the police station the officers told her that the deal would not be possible because the station commander, who was around, would “ask questions”.
Then the delaying tactics started.
’Masebabatso said first they told her that she had “messed up the deal” by involving a lawyer.
Then when the lawyer went to the police station on Saturday morning the police officers told him that Thatjane would only be released in the
afternoon because he was still being interviewed.
“I had gone to their office at around 9am seeking the release of my client and when they told me that I should come back at 3pm I did not suspect that they were planning to go to court to apply for a warrant for further detention without my knowledge,” he said.
“When I went back to the police station I was told that they were from the court and they had the warrant to detain him further.”
“I was very angry at what they did to me.”
Lerotholi said he realised that the police “just wanted Thatjane to heal while in their custody so that he would not be able to prove that he had been tortured”.
Lerotholi said he only secured Thatjane’s release on Monday after he was granted a court order.
“The police too were trying to go to the court secretly and when they arrived there, to their shock, I was waiting for them and I had my client released,” he said.
“They were going to apply for a warrant for further detention.”
Lerotholi said when he went back to the police station to report that his client had been tortured the officer-in-charge was so angry that he almost beat him up.
“The commander, Senior Inspector Lenkoane, almost beat me up saying he had nothing to discuss with me,” Lerotholi said.
“He threw me out of his office.”
Lerotholi said Lenkoane also refused to give him a medical form that Thatjane would have used to get examined by a doctor to prove that he had indeed been tortured.
Thatjane later went to the police headquarters where he was taken to the complaints section, which is now investigating the matter.
Police spokesperson, Masupha Masupha, told the Lesotho Times that once investigations are complete legal action would be taken against the Lithoteng police if found guilty.
“If the police have done such things, they have breached our policy and action should be taken against them,” Masupha said.
Thatjane only received the medical form on Tuesday, five days after his arrest and was examined by a doctor at Queen Elizabeth II hospital.
When the Lesotho Times went to his lawyer’s office to see him he was walking with difficulty.
“My back is painful and I can’t sit comfortably because my buttocks are also aching,” Thatjane said.
“One of my ears is blocked following the beatings.”
Lesotho’s police are notorious for torturing suspects to induce confessions.
Over the years several people have won thousands of maloti in damages after suing the police for torture.