Use of torture in police stations to force suspects to confess a crime is still endemic because police have minimal investigative skills, lack forensic laboratories and equipment to aid investigations, police have confirmed.
Two Criminal Investigations Department (CID) officers in Blantyre Weekend Nation talked to last week claimed that police officers use crude and basic means of sourcing information.
“We just use crude means of gathering information,” said one police officer who was promoted from general duties six years ago and has never attended any training in investigations since his promotion.
Said the CID officer who opted to remain anonymous: “We just rely on the information that is available at the time of the criminal activities, otherwise there is nothing that can be done to establish the perpetrators after the criminal activity has taken place.”
Another CID officer in Blantyre said the police, especially in the CID, is underfunded to the extent that they do not conduct investigations in many criminal investigations.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera in an interview with Weekend Nation on Wednesday last week confirmed both use of crude means of investigations and underfunding of the institution.
“We use traditional means and experts from other departments to investigate matters,” he said.
Added Kadadzera: “We depend on the labs at College of Medicine, for forensic investigations. That is why we seem to take time in the [Issa] Njauju and [Robert] Chasowa cases.”
Chasowa, a fourth-year Polytechnic student was found dead on campus in September 2011, and Njauju, an Anti-Corruption Bureau director, whose body was found half buried in 2016 in Lilongwe, are among other numerous unresolved murder cases.
Kadadzera further said since most of the crimes in modern times are digital, the police need skills in digital forensic analysis which the Malawi Police Service (MPS) does not have.
The MPS also corroborated in the 2016/17 budget statement that the police are not able to investigate complicated cases because they lack forensic equipment as well as trained personnel to carry out investigation.
“Many crimes go undetected due to inadequate investigative capacity on the part of the Malawi Police Service. Most CID officers have not been trained [and] the branch lacks scientific support for investigations.
“Police do not have a forensic laboratory or intelligence gathering equipment to aid investigations. And when it comes to fiscal investigations, most police officers are ill-trained,” reads the statement to Parliament seeking more funding.
Although Kadadzera said in 2016/17 fiscal year, several CID officers have gone to Egypt and China for month-long training programmes in investigative and forensic skills, the training is not enough for handling complex cases.
Private practice lawyer Festino Mayele, who said he has handled several cases involving torture for confession, said criminal investigators use unlawful means of investigations.
He estimated that 90 percent of police use torture to force a suspect to admit a crime.
“For example, on murder cases, out of 250 remandees at Chichiri Prison, only about 120 have concrete evidence, the rest [have] no evidence at all,” he said.
Mayele said these investigations mean that police violate people’s rights and give a false picture to the public and a wrong perception of the criminal justice in Malawi.
“It gives the impression that criminal activities are high in Malawi when actually it is lack of investigative skills that leads to the law enforcers arresting innocent people based on suspicion.
“If a suspect does not confess on his own, police are not able to confront him with evidence,” he said.
Mayele said the criminal justice in Malawi was at the most difficult time where unskilled investigators commence investigations and then pass the information to untrained prosecutors who appear before lay magistrates to pass the judgement.
Failure to modernise
Another lawyer, Ambokire Salimu, said it was pathetic that Malawi is the only country in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region where police do not have a forensic laboratory.
Said Salimu: “Most police investigations are compromised. People have gone to jail on circumstantial evidences. This is most common in cases of rape and defilement. In most cases, specimens are not provided.”
Salimu said forensic investigations are very necessary, saying: “It is by sheer luck that the prosecutions secure convictions in Malawi.”
Weekend Nation has also seen several reports compiled by a human rights organisation of cases of torture in police stations in Blantyre, Thyolo and Lilongwe to force suspects to confess crimes. The organisation did not want to be identified.
In one report, Jeremiah Kaboma, 43, claims on March 17 2017 a police officer at Chigwirizano Police Station in Lilongwe hit him on the head with a gun butt. Kaboma claims that following the ordeal he was not able to hear from his left ear for several days.
In another report, Alec Kazembe claims in October 2016 police at Lilongwe Police Station in Area 3 also hit him with the metal shaft of a gun, stabbed him with a screwdriver and hit him with a baton on his left flank, hip and at the back. Another police assault victim, Paulo Kaliati, claims he sustained multiple wounds after being beaten by CID officers at Bvumbwe Police Station to force him to confess a crime.
In another case, Mike Ngalande reported that police from Bangwe in Blantyre hit him with the blunt side of a panga knife, earning him bruises on the face, ankle and the right flank.
He reported that police officers took turns to pull him on the ground with his arms and legs tied as punishment for attempting to escape from court.
Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) executive director Victor Mhango said, as a human rights organisation, they were aware of and disheartened about acts of violence perpetrated by the police.
“We are aware about these and are seriously looking into them. Due to lack of resources, we understand that the police training may not adequately equip our partners with the investigative skills they require, hence they may refer to other methods of information gathering.”
He said Chreaa has partnered with the police to offer trainings on policing that is within the limits of local and international human rights norms. n