wo suspects arrested in 2007 have been missing from police custody in Lilongwe for 14 years and a search for them has so far not yielded anything.
The development has left family members in total despair—a situation which has compelled the Legal Aid Bureau to start a legal process against government.
Family members, who reported the matter to the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) 14 years ago, have searched everywhere for their relatives, including mortuaries whenever an announcement is made in the local media for people to go and identify unknown dead bodies.
“Such has been the life. We kept some contacts of mortuary attendants at Kamuzu Central Hospital [KCH] and we could check on them now and again just in case there was a dead body in the name of our brother,” narrated SangalaAmini, whose young brother Christopher Chimbalanga, is among the missing two. The other missing person is Hassan TuwalikiKambanje.
Amini reported the matter to MHRC in 2007, but feels frustrated with what he calls “slow pace and seemingly lack of interest”
The commission conducted an investigation into the matter in 2007 which found the police in the wrong, yet nothing has been done to hold the police, and in particular responsible officers, accountable.
According to an MHRC report, police arrested the missing suspects alongside three other people at Biwi Triangle in Lilongwe, but while the other three were released, the two cannot be traced.
The five, Chimbalanga, Yusuf Mkumba, Kambanje, Henry Kaipa and Edward Bewubewu were arrested on suspicion that they were behind a spate of attacks around Biwi Township.
But the MHRC report shows that after interrogation, police were satisfied that the five were not connected with the attacks and instead charged them with an offence of rogue and vagabond.
Mkumba, Kaipa and Bewubewu, the report alleges, were released after paying some bribes between February 4 and February 6 2007.
“After we heard that his colleagues were released on February 7 2007, we went to Lilongwe Police but he was not there. They told us to check at the court, then Maula Prison, police stations; Area 18, Kanengo, Lumbadzi and then they said we try Kamuzu Central Hospital Mortuary. We checked all over the place he was not there, neither was there a record that he had been released,” Amini continued to narrate while his other brother, who has been part of the long search, sat next to him.
According to Kambanje’s cousin, Rajab Lawe, they have searched without success. Lawe and Amini’s families are now united in grief and they have been following up on the issue with MHRC.
“One day I heard an announcement on radio about some unidentified dead bodies at KCH mortuary. Amin and I rushed to the mortuary. We found a dead body with a tag bearing my brother’s name, but this was a different person altogether. We don’t know what had happened,” Lawe explained, adding that he and the family gave up.
“Each time I go to the village [Mangochi], Kambanje’s mother keeps asking me where her son is. I feel guilty and sorry at the same time that I have not been able to give her a convincing answer. We hoped MHRC would help but there is nothing,” he said.
However, the MHRC report identified two police officers who were responsible for the arrest.
In a written response, MHRC director responsible for civil and political rights Peter Chisi confirmed the investigation, saying they established that indeed the two suspects went missing from police custody.
He said: “There was no proof of death because nobody had been recovered anywhere. Family members were, therefore, advised to wait for a period of seven years upon which the two would be assumed dead by operation of the law. After the expiry of the seven years, they would be free to apply to the courts for any form of compensation.”
The seven years elapsed by 2014 and in 2015, according to records, MHRC attempted to take the matter to court, but never proceeded for unknown reasons.
But Chisi defended the commission, saying after seven years, family members were free to sue government.
In a letter dated April 27 2015, MHRC wrote the Attorney General to notify him of their intention to sue government in relation to the missing and/or loss of life of Chimbalanga.
“The explanation from the police has not been satisfactory and the evidence suggests that it is more probable than not that the victim died at the hands of the police,” reads part of the letter.
The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code under Section 189 (2) says if a person goes missing for seven years, he or she may be presumed dead.
Legal Aid Bureau director Masauko Chamkakala confirmed receiving a complaint on the matter last month, saying they would be filing with the court to ask government to produce Chimbalanga under what is legally known as habeas Corpus.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said he would forward our questionnaire to Lilongwe Police Station which is yet to respond despite our reminders.