At least 268 residents in Lilongwe are seeking justice for property loss and assault at the hands of the Malawi Police Service during last year’s demonstrations, with human rights organisations stepping in to push for justice.
According to a Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) report we have seen, out of 268 people who are victims of police brutality—from Mpingu, M’bwatalika and Msundwe—98 are women.
In October last year, police allegedly went on the rampage and assaulted residents in Mpingu, M’bwatalika and Msundwe. Some women and girls were raped or defiled in what the MHRC describes as a revenge act following the death of a police officer Superintendent Usimani Imedi who was stoned to death during a fracas in the area.
In separate interviews, both the Women Lawyers Association (WLA) and Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) have expressed interest to push for the victims’ justice.
The public-funded MHRC has promised to start mass action in support of all affected individuals. This comes after the High Court last week ruled in favour of rape victims.
The court, among other issues, ordered compensation for the victims, prosecution of police officers who perpetrated the crimes and also the establishment of the Independent Police Complaint Commission—that would be key in taming police brutality.
MHRC director for civil and political rights Peter Chisi, in a written response said the commission has noted that a number of victims have not accessed justice on their own; hence, their intervention for mass action.
“The situation required that the victims seek justice through the courts. After noticing the obvious challenge that most of them don’t have access to legal services, we will commence mass action on their behalf with other institutions and human rights lawyers,” he said.
WLA board member, who was also a lead lawyer in the case involving rape victims, Hilda Soko said the women lawyers are available to help all the women who are victims of violence perpetrated by police at Mpingu, M’bwatalika and Msundwe.
Soko said they are holding legal clinics for the people, adding that once approached, the association is ready to help.
President for the association Tadala Chimkwezule hailed MHRC for their investigation which was their basis for litigation. She said they had focused on victims of sexual abuse because the matter was grievous.
“At any rate, WLA’s role is complementary to those that are primary duty-bearers. We hope relevant authorities are working or will work on all these issues comprehensively. For instance, MHRC is not only confined to the investigations but also obligated to ensure that these victims access appropriate remedies,” she said, urging the police and the Director for Public Prosecution to follow up on the cases.
Chreaa executive director Victor Mhango said his organisation is working with WLA to facilitate justice for all victims as captured in the MHRC report.
He said his organisation will also embark on a lobbying campaign for the creation of the Independent Police Complaint Commission.
“We have noted with satisfaction the court order to establish the independent complaint commission. We will start a campaign to raise awareness on the commission so that people are fully aware of it. This, once established, will help tame cases of police brutality,” said Mhango.
MHRC records show that Mpingu suffered the most with 140 cases; M’bwatalika has 71 while Msundwe registered 57. The commission, which conducted an investigation into the matter last year, has documented all names, contact details and in some cases, the value of sought amounts in terms of compensation.
But Chisi indicated that the commission will go back to the victims to ascertain who needs support as some may have sought legal redress on their own.
The demanded figures hover between thousands to millions, depending on the extent of the damage.
The police are accused of burning business property and stealing items such as phones, drinks, TV sets and money.
Love Tumeyo, 36, from Mpingu alleges that the men in uniform broke windows of her house, a radio and television set—all of which she estimates to be worth K220 000 and claimed that she was the treasurer of a village micro-loan business and she was, at the time of the incident, keeping K520 000 which was also stolen.
Tonnex Kamacheza, 28, from Mpingu claims he had his Totoya Fielder burnt down to ashes by police officers. He said when the incident happened, there were some in the car, including new tyres and clothes for his shop and he values his loss at K4.4 million.
“I was running a restaurant and the police threw tear gas inside. I managed to move out and ran but I could not cover a long distance because I was pregnant. They found me and beat me up. I had to give them K7 000 to be allowed to walk free. My restaurant was ransacked,” lamented Shira Mazengera aged 28.
Another lady aged 53, who refused to be named, claims she was not only assaulted but had her few household items broken by the police.
Soko said most women who fell victim to police brutality had vulnerable conditions such as ill-health or old age such that they could not ran away like the rest of community members.