Soldiers, police accused of assault

Accused ivory smuggler sues government

05 June 2019 | Justice

A 41-year-old Rundu woman is suing for N$150 000 in damages for torture she alleges was inflicted by members of an anti-poaching team who arrested her on a charge of possession of elephant tusks in February 2018.

In the lawsuit filed with the Windhoek High Court in April last year, Klementine Tjilepo Mungeli claimed her right to dignity was violated by at least three members of a team of soldiers and police. She claimed they slapped and beat her with a rifle after handcuffing her.

Initially, Mungeli's legal team cited the ministry of safety and security as the sole respondent in the case. But the case was amended to include the environment and tourism ministry and the defence ministry as second and third respondents.

The respondents have denied any wrongdoing.

The safety and security ministry stated that an internal investigation showed that three of the arresting officers were defence force soldiers, and that the police officer involved in the arrest denied she was tortured.

In papers filed last month, the government attorneys acting on behalf of the respondents asked the court to dismiss the claim with costs for a number of reasons.

In her particulars of claim Mungeli alleges three men assaulted her in the presence of another three arresting officers or soldiers, who did nothing to prevent the others from assaulting her.

She claims she was slapped, handcuffed and hit with an assault rifle on her upper body and buttocks several times. She has submitted photos to the court showing the bruising she allegedly sustained.

Further, she claims that she was forced to crawl on her knees for about five metres while handcuffed.

She claims that while shuffling on her knees, the beatings continued as she was hit with a stick and the butt of an assault rifle, while others aimed the rifle at her and threatened to kill her.

She says she “reasonably believed the members of the Namibian police were going to execute such threats.”

Mungeli claims she remained behind bars for three days and was not given an opportunity to visit a hospital or clinic.

She further claims that despite informing the personnel that she was diabetic, she was not given any food and she was also not provided with bedding while in custody.

The contains a list of damages Mungeli claims she sustained during her time in custody, including pain and suffering, injury to her self-esteem, bruised and swollen feet and toes, bruises and swelling to her buttocks, and general body pain.

“For two days Mungeli was unable to sit on her buttocks and thereafter for a further six days it was painful to sit on the buttocks,” the claim reads.

She claims that she had to undergo medical treatment and counselling because of the alleged assault.

Legal battle

In the past months, lawyers acting on behalf of the opposing parties have applied for the claim to be dismissed, based on legal wrangling around the respondents initially not listed in the claim filed by Mungeli.

Lawyers for the safety and security ministry further note that according to police records Mungeli had no injuries after her arrest. They further deny that the police failed to offer to take her to a hospital or clinic.

In addition, the papers claim she was released a day after her arrest, on 11 February, and rearrested ten minutes later for further investigation. Mungeli claims that she initially believed her alleged torturers were all members of the police force.

However, at the start of the criminal trial in which she is accused of illegal possession of elephant tusks, she realised the team had consisted of soldiers, police and employees of the environment ministry

Mungeli was represented by Ricardo Mukonda while government attorney Wensie Uakuramenua represented the ministries. Judge Herman Oosthuizen presided.

In May the case was postponed to 1 July for a case management conference hearing.