Justin Phiri, one of the protesters roughed up by Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers during the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations in Karonga last week, died in Mzuzu on Tuesday night.
Circumstances of Phiri’s death remain sketchy as police remain non-committal to provide details.
But inside sources said yesterday that Phiri died in police custody as he was being taken to Mzuzu Central Hospital from Mzuzu Prison where he was remanded.
The deceased, 29, was one of those transferred from Karonga to be remanded at Mzuzu Prison as they awaited further court appearances. He was charged with inciting violence. At least 20 were locked up.
Yesterday, his family engaged lawyer Brecious Kondowe to get details about his death from police, but the efforts paid little dividends.
In an interview, Kondowe said the family, led by the deceased’s mother, Getrude Tembo, have decided not to allow police to proceed with post-mortem as they were exploring means of engaging an independent expert to undertake the work.
“They [police] are not saying how he died and, therefore, they have lost the trust of my clients in making the other processes,” said the lawyer.
Phiri’s body is at Mzuzu Central Hospital mortuary awaiting further instructions from his family on postmortem and burial.
While confirming about Phiri’s death, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera could not provide details on the circumstances he died.
About 10 MDF soldiers and over 20 civilians were nursing injuries of various degrees in Karonga after the demonstrations turned horrendous.
Yesterday, MDF Commander General Vincent Nundwe said he was not aware of Phiri’s death, but cautioned protesters from causing violence.
He said: “We go out there to support police in ensuring safety. Trust me, our soldiers exercised so much restraint. They have live bullets, but never used them because they are dealing with civilians and understand that there are some troublesome characters.
“It’s not on to be stoning soldiers. We have also told HRDC to tell people to be peaceful. People must look at us as partners, not enemies.”
Meanwhile, HRDC acting national chairperson Happy Mhango has expressed sadness at Phiri’s death.
Said Mhango: “It is very unfortunate that we have lost one of our own. This should be the happiest day for oppressors because that’s what they wanted. It is sad that we are in a situation where people are losing lives because they demand electoral justice, questioning credibility of elections.
“We are saying, even though we have lost one of own, we will not relent until we see electoral justice in this country.”
In a separate interview, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) executive secretary David Nungu also said he was not aware of the death.
Nungu told our sister newspaper Nation on Sunday that his commission would institute investigations to establish circumstances that led MDF soldiers to attack demonstrators in Karonga.
MHRC preliminary investigations established that the demonstrations went violent after some alleged protesters attacked MDF and Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers.
Video clips and photographs went viral on social media showing the soldiers ruthlessly battering the arrested civilians while drenching them in water and some whitish stuff.