The recent burning of Machinjiri Magistrate’s Court by residents was unfortunate, but Malawi Police Service (MPS), people say, lost it all by reacting to the situation with heavy-handedness.
Some Machinjiri residents told Nation on Sunday on Thursday and Friday how police reacted to the arson where the residents burnt down South Lunzu Magistrate’s Court, explaining that police have been arresting and beating residents, shockingly including babies.
Police deny any wrong-doing, insisting they have been operating professionally, but listening to the tales of the residents that were confronted and arrested right in their bedrooms a day after the court was burnt, sounds so disheartening.
Grace Maloto, 25, is one woman who was arrested in place of her husband who was not at home when armed police allegedly forced their way into her house and entered her bedroom.
Maloto said: “My husband had gone out to a funeral. It was at around 10pm, on February 4 when police officers knocked on the door and demanded that I open. When I opened, dozens of them trooped in and some went straight into my bedroom.
“In the process, some started beating me up, demanding that I disclose where my husband was. I told them he was out for a funeral, but they did not listen. One officer picked my one-year-old son, Humphrey, he found sleeping, and holding him by his hand, he threw him out of the house.
“My heart sank. I froze. I could not believe my eyes. I wished it were a dream, but this was real. I saw my son flying in the air and crushing onto the ground. He was naked. I pleaded with the police officers to at least give me a baby blanket as a rushed to pick him. He was crying loudly in agony but no one sympathised with the little soul.”
Maloto said she covered her son with the baby blanket and in seconds, she found herself at the back of a Land Cruiser—she was under arrest, her little baby in her hands.
She said police made several other arrests in Machinjiri’s areas 2 and 3 and the number of women arrested that night alone reached 23. They were all dumped at Machinjiri Area 5 Police Unit.
Maloto said with her baby still in pain and crying, she spent the night in a corridor together with the other women.
Maloto said: “My husband showed up at around 10am the following day. They arrested him and released me. He has been in police custody since then on a charge of arson. But, for a fact, I know my husband was not around when the fracas happened.
“I have faith in God, and I know truth shall prevail. We are a poor family and my husband, who is a fish monger at Luwanda Market, has no time to indulge himself in such criminal activities.”
She said her baby has been unwell since then and she has been to hospital with him.
Another woman, 21-year-old Irene Banda, said in a separate interview at her home that dozens of armed police officers surrounded her house and kicked the door open around midnight of February 4.
Banda said: “They entered a bedroom where three children aged four, eight and 12 from my neighbours were sleeping. They came to sleep over at my home because of the tense situation here following the fracas.
“They beaten them up and they later came into our bedroom, where I was with my husband and our three-year-old daughter. They kicked her away with a boot, telling her ‘we want your father’.
“They later turned on me, beating me severely. They accused us of burning a court, something we never did. They later started beating my husband, and we watched this brutal attack with my daughter, both of us crying helplessly.”
Banda said police later took her husband away and she was told he would be kept at Ndirande Police.
She said her daughter fell sick and she took her to hospital in the morning and later followed up with police on the whereabouts of her husband, only to find him later in the day at Blantyre Police Station.
Another man who runs a shop at Luwanda Trading Centre, but opted for anonymity for fear of reprisals as police have continued to make arrests, said he was sleeping in his shop with his wife when police demanded him to open the door.
He said when he opened, police ordered them to come out and lie on the ground. He said they asked them to start rolling on the ground and as they did so, the police officers were whipping them all over, accusing them of burning a court, a thing he said he did not do.
This man showed Nation on Sunday scars he sustained and pictures were taken. He said his wife sustained similar scars, some in her thighs.
He said he witnessed police eating chips, fried meat and pork for free and kicking away charcoal burners and pots later.
Moses Madikila, another resident, said he witnessed police beating up people that were disembarking from minibuses in the evening of February 4.
Madikila said: “Decent people—women and men—coming from work, were severely beaten up. Teargas canisters were thrown all over, including in homes of people that had nothing to do with the fracas.
“At Machinjiri Health Centre, pregnant women were forced out because teargas affected them. We have information that one woman who was in maternity ward for delivery, rushed out to a safer home where she delivered”
But Blantyre Police Station spokesperson Elizabeth Divala denied all the accusations, saying so far police have arrested 35 people, men and women, after thorough investigations.
The burning of the court, the residents said, happened after some residents were angry that there was no progress on a matter where a businessperson was killed but police kept on taking the suspects to Machinjiri Magistrate’s Court instead of taking them to the High Court where the matter was referred.
Some residents claimed some people were not sleeping in their homes for fear of facing arrests that are still being made. n