Preliminary findings of a recent study show that most former prisoners convicted of committing serious and violent crimes in the country, including armed robbery, are systematically executed by Malawi Police Service (MPS).
Conducted by the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), the study report indicates that the police are extra-judicially killing ex-inmates upon their release from prison.
The preliminary report alleges that police officers use “a systematic pattern and approach” to eliminate the suspected hard core criminals in what is termed as ‘operation elimination’.
Chreea conducted the study to investigate allegations of the killings after a former prisoner, with the help of serving prisoners, provided a list of 43 people he knew to have been allegedly killed by police.
But during the study, the human rights body said it exclusively uncovered 26 more cases out of which it managed to complete investigations into 12 due to resource limitations.
In an interview, Chreea deputy executive director Chikondi Chijozi said they were compelled to carry out the investigative study after receiving alarming figures of reports from former prisoners.
The study was undertaken between November 19 and December 17 last year in Blantyre, Mulanje, Thyolo, Chiradzulu, Nsanje, Mangochi, Ntcheu, Lilongwe, Mzimba and Nkhata Bay. The research team also crossed the border into Mozambique and Zambia.
“In our research, we found out that about 28 people were indeed killed and their death was very suspicious. All of them died of gunshot wounds and when we inquired from their families, the common factor was that they all served their sentences in prison.
“In all these cases, we found out from the hospitals that they had been brought by the police because they were suspected to have been robbers and were shot during shooting with the police or they were escaping from the police,” said Chijozi who is also Chreea litigation manager.
She said the stories were similar for all the cases, a development that corroborated the information provided by former prisoners about the police exterminations.
Chijozi said their findings raised a serious concern in terms of how the police were handling ex-prisoners and intend to share the report with the office of the Ombusdman to do a thorough study on the matter.
“The families of the victims keep on pressing us for justice and they want to know why their relatives were killed,” she said.
Chijozi said the victims, upon being released from prison, are re-arrested by the police and later driven to different places where they are shot dead.
But the report, quoting an unnamed police officer in Blantyre, says the law enforcers execute the killings in various places, mostly sparsely populated such as Chapima Heights and a place in Mchinjiri in Blantyre, some unnamed locality in Chikwawa.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzeram, in an interview yesterday, said he needed more time to inquire and gather details on the report.
On her part, the Ombudsman Martha Chizuma said she had heard about the preliminary report, but was “yet to get the actual report”.
According to the executive summary of the report, out of the 43 names provided, only 22 were identified with 19 confirmed dead while the other 21 remain unidentified.
Reads the report: “The study found that 28 alleged victims confirmed to have been shot by police and died in very suspicious circumstances, three of which were alleged to have died in road accident but they also had gunshot wounds. One alleged victim was found alive.”
However, Chreaa says the findings of the study do not provide conclusive evidence of malpractice and arbitrary deprivation of life “but raises serious suspicion of police involvement in extrajudicial killings.
“The report further evaluates the general obligation of the government under the Constitution and international human rights law to protect the right to life and prevent the arbitrary deprivation of life,” it reads.
The report findings are based on interviews the team conducted with family and friends of the victims and some police officers and makes recommendations on actions to be taken by government and other relevant stakeholders.
Among others, Chreaa recommends that inquests should be carried out by an independent body in all the cases of the alleged victims in line with the provisions of Section 6 of the Inquest Act.
“The inquest should extend also to those cases where the victims allegedly died in a road accident because two of the victims had bullet wounds,” reads the report.
In September last year, our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation, traced scores of robbery suspects who died in dubious circumstances at the hands of police during the past months.
Between May and June 2018, at least 10 suspects—six in Ntcheu and four in Blantyre—died in what appeared to be police shootings.
Based on Weekend Nation findings then, police had been giving inquisitive relatives of some of the victims conflicting narratives of how the suspects died.
Kadadzera told Weekend Nation at the time that police discharge firearms on suspects in possession of dangerous weapons such as firearm and pangas, adding that when firearms is discharged, officers write a report to the officer-in-charge, explaining the circumstances.