Calls to action against police brutality swell

By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – The recent developments where the police had allegedly killed two National University of Lesotho (NUL) students have sparked an outrage and sadness in many quarters.

Following the police excessive force and firing live ammunition that resulted in the loss of lives and many feared injuries, there have been amplified voices calling out against the police brutality and killings of civilians by some members of Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

NUL students had on June 16 engaged in a protest following the National Manpower Development Secretariat’s (NMDS) decision to slash students allowance and give them M450.00 instead of M1 100.00. This NMDS had said per the contracts, the students are to receive their full allowances during the study period and not during the end of examinations.

During the strike, police fired live ammunition resulting in the death of a student while the other is reported to have died later that day at St Joseph Hospital.

Two students died after being shot by the police while many are feared to have sustained serious injuries.

A week after these incidents, the NUL Community issued a statement calling for action against the perpetrators of violence within LMPS.  

“… those police officers who came to attend to the unrest, we lack enough words but wish to strongly condemn the use of deadly force upon students! Protecting lives should have been one of their priorities.

“We ask ourselves or them, where was their non-lethal riot control equipment such as water cannons, the teargas, etc? Sadly, this is the third or fourth time now that a NUL students dies at the hands of the police! We hope the individual(s) who pointed and discharged live ammunition at students will be dealt with by their rightful authorities,” reads their statement in pertinent part.

For their part, Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers Union (LUTARU) issued a statement that “strongly condemns [the] killing of the student and brutally injuring others and call upon the government to act”.

On Sunday last week, the Prime Minister (PM) Dr Moeketsi Majoro and the Minister of Police and Public Safety Hon. Lepota Sekola went to Quthing to the family of one of the deceased to pay condolences and apologize for the death and pain the police had caused for that family.

It is in this meeting where the Police Minister told that family that the task force has been mounted to investigate the incidents which led to the killing of their child and that such report will be handed over to the PM.

Informative Newspaper however drew blank in its attempt to establish what findings have been made and actions taken against the suspects as the Minister of Police was unavailable on his phone.

Police usually attract criticism for their heavy-handed tactics to the civilians when discharging their mandate of maintaining law and order. Despite continuous efforts by the public and government to denounce the brutality, seemingly the practice keeps recurring.

These deaths of the students have also attracted solidarity from near and abroad calling against police brutality and human rights abuse.

European Union (EU) took to Twitter saying “clarity must be made on incidents and those found responsible must be held accountable”.

Also, the local human rights body and a think tank, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) call out the killings and torture meted out to civilians.  

“TRC vehemently condemns the heinous acts of police brutality meted out on NUL students. TRC calls for immediate suspension of the police officers involved.”

It further called for suspension, speedy investigations and prosecutions of the suspects “responsible for these torturous acts”.

Also standing in solidarity is the University of Free State (UoFS) Student Representative Council (SRC) saying “it is an unfortunate ordeal that in a month where young people ought to be celebrating and commemorating the milestone of the youth, we find ourselves in a predicament of harmless students losing their lives in the journey of transformation and activism.

“We call upon all national protection service departments and law enforcement agencies to take the rightful action of incriminating the individuals that caused the death of a soul. It is time we confidently act against any force that seems to distract the importance of student activism in institutions of higher learning.”

The Namibia National Students Organization (NANSO) also felt “disheartened” by the killing of the NUL students.

In a strongly worded press statement, NANSO said it is “disheartened, and at loss of words upon hearing of the unjust killing of two students activists, and the arrest of many students in the Kingdom of Lesotho. We cannot comprehend how such a violation of fundamental human rights to life, freedom of speech, and self-expression can take place in this era of democracy.

“What is more, the acts by the Government of Lesotho are a direct violation of the constitutional principles enshrined in the state’s constitution, and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The political parties, youth movements and trade unions also joined the chorus denouncing the acts of police that caused the lives of the NUL students.

The police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli told this publication that the investigations on this matter are ongoing and cannot comment until the police management have made pronouncements in this matter.

Asked if the suspects had been suspended while investigations are continuing, he said no one has been suspended.

Coy on details, he said the cases of murder and the intent to cause grievous bodily harm have been opened and promised to report to the public when investigations are complete in this matter.