The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has said it will institute investigations to establish circumstances that led Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers to attack demonstrators in Karonga during the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations on Wednesday.
MHRC executive secretary David Nungu told Nation on Sunday on Friday night, after analysing the video clip and photos of the soldiers whipping, spraying water and drenching the suspects, that they have decided to launch a probe into the matter.
“The acts are raising prima facie violations, especially violation of human dignity. Such beating and spraying of water on people manifest inhumane, cruelty and degrading treatment which is prohibited and under our Constitution,” he said.
About 10 MDF soldiers and over 20 civilians are nursing injuries of different degrees in Karonga after the demonstrations reportedly turned horrendous.
According to MHRC preliminary investigations, the demonstrations went violent after some alleged protesters attacked MDF and Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers.
“Time and again we have been condemning any form of violence, while we are not justifying any form of torture, but violence has no space. So, we are looking at the wholesomeness of the human rights in the saga and will have to undertake a full-blown investigation informed by the preliminary investigations we have had,” said Nungu.
The soldiers from Chilumba Barracks got injured after they were reportedly pelted with stones while attempting to clear the Karonga- Road that had been blocked by suspected demonstrators who were also vandalising and looting private property.
The incident occurred while the demonstrators were holding a vigil at Karonga Roundabout, after organisers of the demonstrations—Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC)—called off their three-day mass protests.
MDF Commander General Vincent Nundwe, in a separate interview, said about 10 of his soldiers sustained different cuts in their faces after the protesters threw stones at them.
“Others were seriously injured with deep cuts in their faces, but were all treated as out-patients,” he said.
The general said the soldiers could not just watch when people started blocking fuel tankers and vandalising private property.
“So, they started chasing them, to open access to the road between Songwe Border and Karonga Roundabout. But in the evening, the people took advantage of darkness and started throwing stones at the soldiers, who eventually identified some perpetrators, arrested them and handed them to police,” he explained.
The 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.
When asked about his soldiers’ conduct, Nundwe was non-committal: “I cannot say. May be in the process of running after those people there must have been scuffles that led to the manhandling.”
On his part, HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo while attributing the incident to “enemies of progress who want to create enmity between the military and citizens,” said they were also investigating the matter and engaging to appreciate the cause.
He said the coalition had respect in MDF leadership’s professionalism and if people deliberately provoked the situation, there was indeed need for independent bodies such as MHRC and the Ombudsman to institute investigations and hold perpetrators accountable.
“We don’t think throwing stones at the military was the right thing, if there were such elements it was totally wrong. As HRDC, we are going to internally engage the MDF leadership and Karonga citizens,” said Mtambo.
Since the demonstrations started, the MDF has earned praise from Malawians for its professionalism in protecting the protesting citizens.