Malawi Law Society (MLS) and the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) say the rise in reported cases of mob justice is an indication that the country’s criminal justice system requires an overhaul.
Responding to an inquiry from The Nation on what could be triggering the rise in the trend, MLS honorary secretary
Khumbo Bonzoe Soko said the situation is desperately worrying.
He said it certainly needs a proper diagnosis as without that, one can only speculate regarding why people no longer feel the confidence to entrust wrong-doers to the formal criminal justice system.
In a written response, Soko said: “On our part, all we can continue to do is to say that no weight of societal grievance can ever justify mob justice.
It is wrong today and will remain wrong tomorrow. But even as we say this, that is not to suggest that those of us involved in the criminal justice system should not pause for a moment of introspection.
“We obviously need to do that. It is important that people know and have certain assurance that the criminal justice system is on their side. It is possible that people are no longer certain of that assurance. It could be that they feel that the system is rigged in favour of wrong-doers. And that is some dangerous place to be at as a society.”
On his part, CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo said criminals cannot be protected in any way; hence, the reason there is the criminal justice system to deal with them.
He said institutions such as police, the courts, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) are better placed to handle such cases in an acceptable and civilised way.
However, Mtambo said when citizens are hugely taking the law into their own hands, it is an indication that something Mtambo: The courts cannot be blamed is wrong and as country there is need for an honest soul-searching and probe.
He said: “Mob justice implies that the public has lost trust in the criminal justice system and as a country there is a need to raise questions on what has gone wrong. Firstly, are the police doing enough to make sure that if security, lives and rights of people are threatened by criminals it is doing enough to respond quickly.
“Secondly, it is not only about the police, when those people are taken to the courts, the judgements that are given there also need to be questioned.
For instance someone is found with human bones and they are given a very simple sentence despite that the police invested a lot of resources and efforts to bring them to book, that is also an issue.
“But the courts cannot also be blamed entirely. We should also condemn the laws that we have because the courts make the judgements basing on the laws that are in the country. So, it is high time we looked at the entire criminal justice system.”
In a 2014 research report, University of Malawi Chancellor College law scholar Mwiza Nkhata found that the rise in the cases of mob justice in the country is people’s response to rising insecurity.
The report, titled Violent Mob Justice in Malawi and its Implications for the Rule of Law, was based on findings of a research conducted across the country’s major cities on the broad thematic area of violent mob justice between December 2013 and January 2014.
According to the report, the absence of alternative avenues for dealing with criminals also contributes to the incidents of mob justice in the country as there is only one criminal justice system.
On another note, the report also argued that perhaps the biggest underlying cause of mob justice in Malawi is the prevailing socio-economic conditions in the country, observing that though modest gains have been made to reduce poverty levels and improve the living standards of Malawians, poverty remained deeply entrenched.
Recently, President Peter Mutharika expressed concern over the rising trend in violent mob justice by reminding Malawians that the malpractice is against the rule of law.
The President said worth appreciating is the fact that crime suspects are sources of information regarding a particular offence in question, and killing them is as good as destroying vital evidence that could be used in court of law.
Most recent cases of mob justice that have happened nationwide include the killing of four elderly persons in Neno in January 2016 and two other people in Dedza on suspicions that they caused lightning that killed young girls .
In Lilongwe, a 20-year-old Natural Resources College (NRC) student was beaten to death last month by irate villagers who mistook him for a burglar.
Other cases include the burning of seven men to death after they were found with bones suspected to be of an albino; the beating of a motorist and torching of his car in Karonga on suspicion that he hit a cyclist; the beating to death of suspected thieves in Blantyre’s Bangwe Township, Kabudula in Lilongwe and Masenjere in Thyolo districts.