A six-month pregnant ’Mathabo Khau has narrated how she was allegedly assaulted by rogue police elements during a much-condemned operation in Kao on December 27.
The 32-year old Khau says she was sjamboked and labelled a slut by the Botha-Bothe police during a brutal operation that has since claimed a life in Ha-Sheshile.
The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism last month reported details of how the raging police stormed the villages of Ha-Sheshile and Lihloahloeng and hauled over 50 men they later brutally punished at a stream distant from the villages.
The police were enraged by an incident where one of their own was physically assaulted by the villagers in a brawl that ensued over a woman at a tavern in Lihloahloeng on Christmas.
The police had later arrested one suspect and kept him prison, but the villagers, on December 26, stormed the police station to demand his release and the police complied.
Addressing a public gathering at Ha Sheshile in Kao, police boss for Botha Bothe Senior Superintendent Teboho Khesa likened the ‘torture’ to mandatory dipping of all infected sheep by farmers which in his words was necessary.
The whole drama was to reach new heights in the wee hours of the next morning, December 27, with a troop of armed police arriving at Ha-Sheshile and sweeping out almost every man before they brutally assaulted them.
While the whole time the Centre understood that only the village men were assaulted, Khau has opened up to say details of how she was also a victim of the operation along with some other women.
“We heard gunshots at the village at around 5 am if not 6 am. I had gone out to see what was happening and saw some village men being hauled by police officers from their homes,” Khau narrated.
She said she had stood near a pole at next to her home when one of the uniformed police officers “who wore a balaclava and held a sjambok in his hand approached me and asked if I knew Poshanoe (now deceased villager) and where he lived. I told him that I do not know where he lives”.
Heavily pregnant, Khau said the police officer, immediately following her response, raised his hand and sjamboked her on the stomach, shouting: “Do you want me to kick you until you give birth, slut?”
Khau said she was later taken to a hospital by her mother where the nurse told her that she could not feel the foetus’ heartbeat.
“It was only on the following day that the nurse told me that they could now feel the unborn child’s heartbeat but that it was beating at a very low rate. I was released from the hospital that day,” she said.
’Masekoati Leoma, another village woman, said the police arrived at her house at around 4am looking for her husband, Mabilikoane.
“They asked me where he was and I told them that I do not know, immediately one of them started beating me telling me what I will tell them about my husband’s whereabouts. They even instructed me that I should call him. I told them that my phone was off…,” Leoma said.
She added one of the police officers went to her bed to look for her husband: “My child was still sleeping there and they removed him and flipped the bed up. When they could not find him, they grabbed my child and asked where his father was. My child replied that he was at work. One of them then turned to me, hit me with a stick on my knee saying that I lied by saying I did not know where my husband was as the child told them he was at work”.
Leoma said what really got her worried was that on December 29, about seven police officers came again to her house looking for him, “still they could not find him, it is at this time that one of the police officers told me that I should prepare to buy a mourning cloth should they find him”.
Other women have narrated their ordeals before the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Law, and Public Safety earlier this month.
Meanwhile, when addressing the villagers who had gathered at Ha-Sheshile to give evidence before the parliament’s portfolio committee, its chairperson, Lekhetho Mosito, said they were going to have a “tough talk” with the Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli and the Police Minister ’Mampho Mokhele.
“When a person is in the custody of a police officer, such an officer is not permitted by any law to beat or inflict any pain on that person. We do not agree with the fact that police hauled and beat you, worse, that even women were sjamboked in this manner. It is totally unacceptable,” charged Mosito.
Women and Children Coordinator at the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organizations’ ’Mantšalla Ramakhula, in an interview with the Centre, has expressed her disappointment over the manner in which the police conducted themselves itself at Kao.
Ramakhula said while they work directly with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service through their Child and Gender Protection Unit; “one would think that since police officers who work under this department rotate, it would have influence over other police officers to remind them to protect human rights in general and protect women and children”.
She reiterated that “even if the public was on the wrong side of the law, the manner in which police approached this issue is unacceptable”.
Police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, this week said the investigations into the Kao saga were underway and that the commissioner will soon issue a statement on the matter.