Thursday, June 4, 2020

Disabled man with epilepsy claims police assaulted him during lockdown patrol

If everything that Mooketsi Goitsemodimo says happened did really happen, then he would be one of the people that the Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Kagiso Mmusi, has apologised to both after the fact and in advance.Goitsemodimo claims that Maun police beat him during a night-time encounter at his family home in Sanyedi Ward in the village.

He estimates the time to have been a little after midnight when a lockdown patrol team called at his home, rousing him and the rest of the family out of sleep. The team comprised of four police officers and one soldier. As part of effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, the sale of alcohol has been suspended. Naturally, there are still people who want to take their chances and the police have had to close down shebeens during lockdown patrols.Goitsemodimo says that the officers told him that they had been tipped off about illicit sale of alcohol at his homestead and that to that end, they wanted to search all huts within it.“But they couldn’t produce a search warrant when we asked to see it and proceeded with the search regardless,” says Goitsemodimo. “Basically, they used force to search the houses.”A culturally sensitive issue arose when the officers made for a hut in which Goitsemodimo’s sister is culturally confined with a two-week-old baby. Across most indigenous cultures in Botswana, the confinement hut is a no-go area, especially for men.

It is believed that intrusion might imperil a baby’s health and in that regard, the confinement is not just an opportunity for a new mother to recuperate but is also a health measure to protect the new-born baby. Goitsemodimo says that he protested bitterly when the patrol team tried to enter the confinement hut, citing cultural protocols that forbade such intrusion. By his account, the soldier (whose name he still recalls) became very uneasy about this intrusion and advised the police officer against searching the confinement hut because they would be violating a sacred cultural protocol. The officers wouldn’t listen and accusing Goitsemodimo of being rude, bulldozed their way into hut to conduct a search that ultimately yielded nothing.A quarrel erupted ensued when the officers came out of the hut. Goitsemodimo says that he remonstrated with the officers for violating his sister’s privacy, whereupon they fell upon him, taking turns slapping him hard across the face and kicking him all over his body as he fell to the ground.“Then they handcuffed me, dragged me on the ground like a bag of maize and threw me into the back of their patrol vehicle,” he says.The vehicle took him to the police station where he was thrown into a holding cell and released a few hours later without being charged, by one of the officers who had earlier assaulted him. He says upon releasing him the officer told him: “I don’t ever want to see you here again.”

His body aching all over, Goitsemodimo later went to a medical clinic and provided the nurse who attended him with an account of the alleged assault, that was transferred to his medical card. The handwriting is characteristically hieroglyphic code that is difficult to read but some parts are clear enough: “reports to be assaulted by the police on the 8th April, 2020, sustaining injury to the face … cheek bruises … forearm swollen … soft tissue injury … report that they were kicking him in the face … pain on the ears … reports discharging [circled h] ear … reports some cracking sounds.”

reading the hieroglyphic handwriting on the card, it is unclear to make out what he was discharging from the ear but Goitsemodimo himself says that he was bleeding from both ears after the police beat him up.He suspects that his forearm is broken but has not been able to ascertain that because when he spoke to Sunday Standard on Thursday, he had yet to undergo X-ray examination at the Letsholathebe Primary Hospital. He had gone there the previous day, he says, but was told that the radiographer (he says “doctor” in an apparent general sense) was not in.Over and above the invasion of the confinement hut, the other peculiarity in this case is that Goitsemodimo has a leg disability and also suffers from epileptic fits. We can’t vouch for what he claims happened but these medical conditions put him in a special category of people that should be spared police brutality. He says that he has reported the assault to the Maun Police Station Commander, who couldn’t immediately attend the matter because the officers involved were off-duty.

However, when contacted by Sunday Standard, the Superintendent Chenamo Orateng, said that he knows nothing about this issue. On being asked to clarify this point in a follow-up phone call, Goitsemodimo said that when he called at the station, he was led to believe that the senior officer whose office he was taken to, was the Station Commander. Reports of police assaulting civilians in enforcement lockdown restrictions have been coming from around the country and at least two members of cabinet have given their reactions. Through his press secretary, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has condemned the assault of civilians by joint patrol teams – which, in an article headlined “By All Means Don’t Speak English During Tense Police Stops”, Sunday Standard predicted would happen.

Speaking at a press conference, the Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Kagiso Mmusi, apologised to assault victims and promised to take disciplinary action against the culprits.Botswana’s joint patrol teams are not alone in beating up civilians and a regional human rights advocacy group called the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) has expressed grave concern about this situation.“Clear rules of engagement that are in compliance with the constitution and the law must be established for the police and military. Perpetrators of violence must be withdrawn and punished.

National frameworks for monitoring compliance with constitutional and human rights standards during the lockdown must be established. We call on all States to respect fundamental rights of their citizens even as they tackle the COVID-19 crisis,” OSISA said in a statement three days before Botswana’s own lockdown began. Similar assaults have been reported in Kenya, Uganda and India and there is a particular reason why most offences seem to be occurring in Commonwealth countries. Police brutality is largely a result of a virulent model of policing (Royal Irish Constabulary) that Britain introduced in 1822 to police Northern Ireland. This model was later coarsened further and exported to British colonies – which retained it when they became independent geo-political entities. In that regard, what Mmusi means by taking disciplinary action against culprits would basically take the form of making cosmetic interventions (like demoting or expelling the offenders) while leaving Botswana’s RIC model intact.

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