Lesotho’s 2015 soldiers’ torture haunts army

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…as officers demands for compensation trigger suspension and board of inquiry into

By Billy Ntaote and Liteboho Thebe

Security and political instability that gripped Lesotho between 2014 and 2015 — quelled through a regional peace initiative — has its tormenting past resurrected as tortured soldiers’ demands for compensation has landed them suspensions, inquiries into alleged mutiny, and court battles once again.

The soldiers have taken to court against the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and the army commander Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela.

They seek the High Court to halt the operation of the decision Lt Gen Letsoela suspending them from work pending final determination of their application before the court.

They also want the decision of the Lt Gen Letsoela cited as the first respondent in court papers to convene a Board of Inquiry into “circumstances surrounding the joint action by the applicants in Tumelo Maja and others Vs Commander LDF in CIV/T/441/2021” shall not be stayed pending the final determination of their application.

In 2015, some of the soldiers’ families had to file habeas corpus applications in demand for the army to produce their loved ones while they were undergoing the alleged torture and they were feared could be dead.

But some were furthermore detained and charged with mutiny and held in detention as their mutiny trial went on. The mutiny trials only ended when tables turned and a new government came into power to quash the court-martial proceedings that these soldiers faced. Thereafter a Southern African Development Community peace mission in Lesotho helped bring stability in the army.

But the tortured soldiers still had grievances and demands for compensation that they demanded be addressed until they went to court to seek the intervention of the court.

The soldiers, cited as first to twelve applicants are No 8583 Sergeant Ngoliso Majara, No 9549 Major Lehloa Ramots’o, No 8655 Captain Peter Mokhothu, No. 9854 Sergeant Thabang Lepota, No. 50508 Lcpl Thabiso Motsieloa, No. 9712 Sergeant Mokhapi Kelane, No. 10844 Corporal Lehlohonolo Bolofo, No 11133 Corporal Ntabejane Kanono, No 9738 Sergeant Selebalo Sejake, No 11476 Corporal Lits’itso Mahase, No. 10980 Corporal Khoarai Ralitlemo, No. 50633 Private Ntai Mosaku.

While Commander Letsoela, LDF, Ministry of Law and Justice, and Attorney General are cited as the first to fourth respondents in the soldiers’ application.

The soldiers want the decision of the Commander LDF to suspend them from work to be “reviewed corrected and set aside as it is irregular and irrational”.

They further want Lt Gen Letsoela’s decision suspending them from work be declared “unconstitutional for violation of the applicants’ rights of access to justice”.

But following this Members of the LDF seeking compensation for torture and wrongful imprisonment court application they are now under investigation for alleged mutiny.

Captain Motikoe representing the LDF told Justice Molefi Mokhesi that the army commander had already instituted a Board of Inquiry that started its work on Sunday, July 19th.

Motikoe said the Board of Inquiry is investigating allegations of mutiny surrounding the joint action in Tumelo Maja and 15 others vs the Commander and Another in CIV/T/441/ 2021.

In the joint court application, Tumelo Majara and fifteen other members of the LDF are according to their lawyer Advocate Mokhathali acting on the instruction of Attorney Khotso Nthontho said the Board of Inquiry is intended to either find the soldiers guilty of mutiny and imprison them or intimidate the soldiers not to demand damages and compensation for the suffering from their imprisonment and torture.

Mokhathali said the Tumelo Majara and fifteen others in CIV/T/441/2021 are seeking the government of Lesotho to pay them damages after having written letters of demand to the LDF that were ignored since 2018.

He said in June 2021 a case was opened on behalf of the soldiers who were in the same predicament in case CIV/T/441/2021.

The case prompted the LDF commander and his command to refer and describe the lawsuit as mutinous of the soldiers and suspended them and instituted a Board of Inquiry to investigate their alleged collusion against the LDF command.

Events that followed, Advocate Mokhathali said prompted the suspension of the soldiers and they had to withdraw their joint case.

And on July 19th following the institution of the Board of Inquiry to investigate alleged mutiny against the soldiers, Mokhathali said a new urgent application was brought to the court against the LDF by the soldiers.

Mokhathali told KDNews he holds a strong view that the Board of inquiry has been constituted illegally because when it was convened the Commander did not fulfill the requirements of natural justice and did not give them a hearing before instituting the board of inquiry.

The soldiers said their case has its roots stemming from the political crisis that engulfed the Kingdom around the years 2014 and 2015 reaching its peak with the now widely reported attempted coup d’état of August 2014 against former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s administration.

The soldiers said “from February 2015 what occurred were widespread kidnappings, tortures and assaults meted out against members of the Lesotho Defence Force by factions within the Lesotho Defence Force who were suspected of being disloyal to the aforementioned then commander.

“I must place this court into my confidence and aver that I was part of the contingent which was being persecuted by the Lesotho Defence Force and so were my co-applicants.

“I aver that on the 1st of February 2015 I was shot in the face and in both shoulders, I herein attach a copy of my medical report as annexure “A”, I sustained permanent damage to my face and had to undergo reconstructive surgery.  Some of my co-applicants were kidnapped and hauled off to the Selibeng Military Base where they were tortured in the most barbaric and inhuman manner.

“Some of the applicants herein had no other choice but to ‘skip the country’ to South Africa as political exiles.

“Upon our return to the Kingdom of Lesotho around 2017/18 after various international interventions had seemingly stabilized the aforementioned crisis, we were told that we should refrain from approaching the Courts of Law to sue the first and second respondents for the atrocities committed on us.

“Certain promises were made by political figures and senior officials within the military that our grievances would be resolved amicably without the need to approach the Courts to claim damages.

“I aver that to date we have been assisted regarding our respective grievances. We have not been compensated for the atrocities committed against us despite several legal demands,” said Sergeant Ngoliso Majara in an affidavit.