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Acting Middlepits Police Station Commander, Assistant Superintendent Batani Lehuma has refuted allegations that he brutally tortured Letlhogonolo Dinao (44) of Middlepits in the Kgalagadi South District.
Dinao, a driver with the Kgalagadi District Council told The Botswana Gazette, from Tsabong Primary Hospital where he was admitted, that the police and the wildlife anti-poaching unit acting together, tortured him following his arrest in a sting operation between Khuis and Middlepits on 28th March.
He said on his return trip from Khawa to Tsabong, the police took him in for questioning, only for him to learn upon arrival that his day was going to end in brutality at the hands of the arresting officers.
“A certain police officer, told me that he has been on my trail and that I should ask a certain Brouks of how he tortures people like me. He then instructed me to undress all my clothes and lie on the floor,” Dinao narrated.
“He instructed me to lie down on the floor naked with my hands tied behind my back and all I could do next was to surrender to fists and kicks from the police and wildlife officers, while they also put a plastic bag over my head. At some pointed, my bowels almost reacted while they demanded I disclose the whereabouts of the poached Springboks carcasses.”
Dinao said the entire team attacked him until he became unconscious. “I recall water splashing on my face while gaining consciousness, and I then noticed a lady police officer uttering words, ‘se batlile go tsamaya (he almost died),” he shared.
“I was later driven to the clinic in the back of the police van while one officer (name withheld) continued throwing punches at me. I could not walk or talk when I reached the Middlepits clinic though the nurse on duty refused to attend to me,” he said.
Dinao said though he was still in a baffled state, he could however manage to sense that the nurse was uncomfortable with the explanations he got from the police about how he got the injuries.
He further said the police then took him to his house and upon arrival some officers suggested to their colleague driver to switch off the lights, so that his neighbours wouldn’t witness his condition from the beatings.
“They left me with my girlfriend who later arranged that I be taken to the clinic the following day, and then referred to Tsabong Primary Hospital where I have been admitted for five days.
When pressured to further explain Dinao’s claims, Assistant Superintendent Lehuma said he is yet to receive official complaint of torture from Dinao but was quick to mention that indeed Dinao was interviewed by his officers in the presence of the wildlife officers but collapsed during the session. Lehuma however, said Dinao is a suspect of aiding four poaching suspects, (names withheld) by the police, all being residents of Middlepits.
“The suspects are helping us with the investigations and they have since admitted to the crime they have committed. They are all facing a charge of hunting or capturing by night a wild animal without a license,” he said.
Lehuma also said they are yet to charge Dinao with the offence he has committed, that is aiding the four suspects by transporting the 5 Springbok carcasses from the scene of crime to Middlepits. He said they received a tipoff on 24th March that the four suspects had on 21st March gone for hunting at wildlife-controlled area KD27.
The arrests were also confirmed by Acting Deputy Director of Wildlife (Operations), Churchill Collier who said the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Antipoaching unit based in Kgalagadi South with the Botswana Police arrested four men suspected of poaching eight (8) springboks.
Collier alleged that the suspects committed the crime inside KD27, a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) northwesterly of Middlepits and have admitted the crime. “We are assisting the police with the investigations and in as far as how the operation carried, they are not aware of brutality that was carried out in their presence, either by the police nor DWNP rangers,” he said.
The Tsabong Primary Hospital medical records dated April 4, indicates that Dinao suffered trauma due to assault and hemorrhages. While visiting The Botswana Gazette offices on Monday morning, Dinao still struggled to walk without crutches, had a swollen face and blood-stained eyes, with rope scratches on his wrists.
Dinao and Matere torture similarities
The Middlepits brutality to suspects corresponds with the case of Kebakile Matere v. The State of 1994.
In that matter, Matere v. The Attorney General case number 1994 Botswana Law Reports 482 presided by Judge Martin J. Horwitz at the Lobatse High Court, the torture victim (Matere) was suing the state for damages, wrongful arrest and detention including assault.
Matere was tortured for several hours in terrifying circumstances and prevented from seeing a doctor, detained under an unlawful warrant. Matere through his lawyer Themba Joina was said to have been kept incommunicado with his family or lawyer for 10 days and he was seeking general damages of P40 000 which he was awarded on November 29, 1994.
In the judgment, Judge Horwitz noted that a certain Miss Thebe (now retired) ordered the plaintiff to undress completely and a blanket was ordered to be brought into the room and lest it be thought that Miss Thebe was concerned for the comfort of the plaintiff, the evidence was that experience had shown that when a suspect was interrogated in the manner in which the team, intended to interrogate him, his bowels worked and the blanket was there to prevent the floor of the office being dirtied.
“As I have said, the plaintiff was told to undress, his hands were manacled behind his back and he was asked to disclose where he had hidden the money and the firearm. He denied any knowledge of this and the interrogation then began in earnest, i.e. a sheet of plastic was held over his nose and mouth while two police officers either sat on his legs or held him. When the plaintiff appeared to be about to lose consciousness, the plastic was removed and he was revived, only to have the questions repeated and the plastic replaced. There is some confusion as to whether a rubber tube was also used at some time or was merely there to be used if necessary. I have no doubt that the plaintiff was subjected to suffocation by plastic being held over his nose and mouth,” Justice Horwitz concluded.
In the Dinao matter, he was arrested as a suspect of aiding poaching but was never charged but severe interrogation took place even the same way as with Matere.
Medical evidence also indicates that he was assaulted while he was seeking legal advice.