- Lesotho police forces again have turned an operation against Maseru street vendors into a violent event, physically attacking the vendors and an investigating journalist. Also in July last year, a similar police action turned violent and several vendors and two journalists sustained grievous bodily injuries.
According to an alert issued by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) today, a recent police action against Maseru street vendors again was dominated by police violence. A Basotho freelance journalist, Justice Maqelepo, was severely assaulted by members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and municipal constables of the Maseru City Council (MCC), in Maseru's main street, Kingsway.
Mr Maqelepo was making his way to the MISA-Lesotho's Media Resource Centre when two pick-up trucks, one full of armed police officers and municipal constables, came to a halt metres from him in the Maseru's central business district. Police officers and the constables "jumped from the trucks waving batons and sjamboks and hurling vulgarities at street vendors telling them to vacate the streets," MISA reports.
The journalist approached the police officer who seemed to be commanding the operation to evict street vendors from the streets. He revealed his identity to the officer and informed him that he was a journalist.
Mr Maqelepo then questioned the manner and reason for the officers' aggression towards the vendors. "The exchange angered the commanding officer who responded by punching and beating Maqelepo with his baton. His colleagues soon came to his assistance and Maqelepo and the vendors, who were already suffering the same fate as he, were forced to flee," MISA reports.
MISA-Lesotho condemned this incident and furthermore, a case of assault was launched against the LMPS, as well a formal submission to the Police Complaints Authority about this matter. Further to this, the media watchdog group "provided funds for the journalist to receive medical treatment and to obtain a medical certificate to verify his condition."
This is the second time in two years that an attempt to evict street vendors from Kingsway leads to high levels of police violence. In July last year, Maseru police officers, wearing protective clothing and armed with pump action shotguns, mounted a massive surprise action against the vendors.
As the vendors protested last year's eviction, they were met with gunshots and the protests escalated into a violent situation. Street vendors resorted to throwing stones, vandalising and torching shops and businesses in and around that area. About six shops, one church and at least one vehicle were vandalised.
Two journalists from Lesotho's independent weekly 'Mopheme', covering the police action, were caught in the middle of the escalating situation. T'sepiso Mncina sustained grievous bodily injuries and was immediately rushed to hospital, while Thabo Thakalekoala, a 'Mopheme' sub-editor, sustained a minor injury to the knee cap.
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