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Army boss opposes M10 million torture claim

Moorosi Tsiane

LESOTHO Defence Force (LDF) commander, Mojalefa Letsoela, has pleaded with the High Court to dismiss a M10, 9 million claim by three soldiers who allege they were tortured by their colleagues in 2015.

In his opposing papers filed in the High Court on Thursday, Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Letsoela says the claim should be dismissed because it was filed late.

The three applicants, whose ranks are not given in the court papers, are Thoriso Mareka, Seabata Chaka and Motlatsi Mokhobo.

The trio are demanding a whooping M10 950 000 as damages for the unlawful arrests, detention and torture they allegedly suffered at the hands of their colleagues including the late Captain Tefo Hashatsi and Major Bulane Sechele.

They allege that they were subjected to torture and degrading treatment by their army colleagues during and after the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of former Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane.

Their legal battle was supposed to proceed before Justice ‘Maliepollo Makhetha on Thursday but was deferred to 24 August 2022 after Lt-Gen Letsoela filed his opposing papers.

Lt-Gen Letsoela argues that the soldiers laid their claim in 2017 but only served him in October 2021. Therefore, it is outside the time prescribed by the High Court rules.

“The applicants’ claim arose in 2017 but they only served the respondents with their claim on 13 October 2021, which is a period of more than two years after their claim arose,” Lt-Gen Letsoela argues.

“The court has no power to condone the late filing of the action. The court cannot extend the prescribed period where there is no provision in law authorising such extension in terms of Rule 59 of the High Court Rules 1980.”

Lt-Gen Letsoela is being sued in his capacity as army commander for the atrocities which were allegedly committed by soldiers under the command of former LDF chief, Tlali Kamoli.

Lt-Gen Letsoela and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa are the first and second respondents respectively in the applications.

Mareka is demanding a total of M5 110 000, Chaka M2 930 000 and Mokhobo M2 910 000.

Mareka claims M2, 4 million for unlawful arrest and detention, M180 000 for medical expenses, M580 000 for contumelia, M750 000 for pain and suffering, M300 000 for malicious prosecution before the Court Martial and M900 000 for travelling expenses.

“I was arrested by my juniors, the late Captain Hashatsi, Retired Colonel (Thato) Phaila and some agents or employees of the Lesotho Defence Force on or around 5 June 2015.

“They handed me over to the LDF personnel who in turn took me to Setibing Military Base for what they styled as ‘interviews’ and or ‘investigations’,” Mareka states in his application.

He claims he was brutally assaulted and tortured by the officers at Setibing but he could not see them as he has a sight problem.

He says he was interrogated about his relationship with the late LDF commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, and the freezing of a loan facility for soldiers by the management of the LDF.

Mareka states that his wife subsequently filed a High Court application to compel the LDF to produce him dead or alive. The application was duly granted by the now retired Justice Teboho Moiloa, on 1 July 2015.

He further alleges that the then LDF command delayed to release him as they initially questioned the authenticity of Justice Moiloa’s order.

“In view of the attitude they displayed towards the court order, this suggests the military then had a blank cheque to do whatever they wished with us.

“I was taken into military custody unlawfully and charged for mutiny maliciously. The torture I endured at Setibing and the defamation I suffered due to the charge of mutiny where the LDF had failed to furnish me with the remand warrant and signed written reports  in respect of allegations which led to my imprisonment were antithetical to the rule of law and due process,” he says in his court papers.

Mareka claims that as a result of the treatment by his juniors and the torture, he has suffered damages totalling M5 110 000, for which he holds the defendants liable to pay.

Chaka’s M2 930 000 claim is broken down as follows: M2 million for unlawful arrest and detention, M200 000 for hospitalisation, M180 000 for contumelia, M250 000 for pain and suffering, and M300 000 for general damages.

He also alleges he was arrested on 1 June 2015 and taken to Setibing Military Base where he was tortured with hard objects by his colleagues and forced to confess to mutiny.

He suffered permanent disability after undergoing a hip replacement operation as a result, he says.

Chaka furthers claims that the army only allowed him to have the operation after being ordered to do so by the court.

“The actions and decisions of the subordinates of the first defendant (army commander) were unlawful and wrong. The defendants remain jointly and severally liable. The decisions to place me under close arrest and prosecute me before the Court Martial had no merit.

“The jurisdictional facts for the imposition of a closed arrest were absent, hence I must be compensated,” he states.

Mokhobo’s M2 910 000 claim is broken down as follows: M2 million for unlawful arrest and detention, M180 000 for hospital expenses, M180 000 for contumelia, M250 000 for pain and suffering and M300 000 for general damages.

He claims he was arrested at Ratjomose Barracks on 17 May 2015 and also taken to Setibing Military Base.

His colleagues there assaulted and insulted him. They also told him that he was going to die and they were going to sleep with his wife, he claims.

These atrocities were carried out to elicit confessions and incriminating evidence meant to connect him with an imaginary mutiny plot.

“I was tortured and drowned (sic) in cold water. My torturers forced me to dry myself by sitting on a hot corrugated iron sheet. This took two days until my wife launched habeas corpus proceedings before the now retired Justice Semapo Peete.

“It was in response to the orders of this court that I was brought before court in a very bad shape. The court ordered that I be attended to urgently by doctors as my private parts had been rendered dysfunctional owing to the tortures I suffered,” Mokhobo says.

He further argues that the LDF investigations into the alleged mutiny plot could have been conducted without torture and death threats.

“I was placed in closed arrest and solitary confinement only to be acquitted after some years of suffering in 2017.

“The LDF command exercised undue influence on the prosecuting authority to conjure up spurious charges against me before the Court Martial in a covert campaign such that I could be considered a fascist and mutineer. The verdict of acquittals talks to the malicious prosecution and unlawful arrest and detention,” Mokhobo states.