Lesotho’s mounted police force accused of detaining, torturing human rights lawyer

Lesotho’s Mounted Police Service (LMPS) stands accused of detaining and torturing Napo Mafaesa, a human rights lawyer, after a client of his allegedly lied that he handed over an illegal firearm to the advocate for safekeeping.

The client, a suspect linked to an armed robbery case, was said to have made the claim while allegedly being tortured by the LMPS. Thereafter, the LMPS went to Mafaesa’s chambers where they arrested him and detained him for three days.

In a telephone interview from the Mountain Kingdom, advocate Mokoenanyane Makhobakhobe told News24 that the client had made the utterance under duress so as to avoid further torture.

“The client lied that he had given the firearm under question to his lawyer because he wanted the torture to end. Little did he know that they would turn to his lawyer to do the same or worse,” he said.

Makhobakhobe said for three days Mafaesa was tortured while the Transformation Resource Center (TRC) and Southern African Litigation Center (SALC) battled to secure his release.

“When he was released, I was there. He could hardly walk or talk. He could have died,” he said.

The Law Society of Lesotho (LSL) in a statement said they condemned “in the strongest terms, the brutalisation of suspects and detainees in the hands of law enforcement agencies, an investigative technique which is characteristic of an authoritarian rule and has no room in the modern democratic dispensation”.

The LSL said the LMPS went about its investigation the wrong way and should have interrogated the suspect in the presence of his lawyer whom they only hunted down after allegations were levelled against him.

“Notwithstanding that lawyers are not immune from investigations and prosecution for criminal offences, even if committed in their professional capacities; the mode of operation by LMPS should not be to undermine the fundamental principle of lawyer-client privilege which underlies the entire administration of justice,” the society said.

In a joint statement, TRC and SALC said investigators had “turned the LMPS into an official institution of torture”.