A United States Department of State report on human rights situation in the country has observed that the Malawi Police Service (MPS) generally breaks regulations in arresting suspects and treating detainees.
The 2018 report, issued by the department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, states that police arrest most suspects without a warrant but based on their belief that a crime was being or had been committed.
According to the report, police normally issue arrest warrants in cases that involve white-collar crimes or corruption.
But when contacted, national police spokesperson James Kadadzera said he could not react to the allegations because he had not seen the report.
“But I am sure they have sent a copy to the office of our Inspector General and should there be need to reply we will do so accordingly,” he said.
Further, the report observes authorities often ignore the suspects’ rights to have access to legal counsel and be released on bail or be informed of charges within 48 hours as provided for by the law.
It cites the case of Masauko Chimphamba, a small-scale businessperson, who was arrested in April 2017 and kept in custody for two nights without being told the reason for his arrest.
He was released days later after a man involved in a robbery case informed police that Chimphamba was not part of the incident.
“Police frequently demanded bribes to authorise bail, which was often granted to reduce overcrowding in jails, rather than release a detainee on the merits of a case,” reads the 27-paged report.
In some cases, reads the report, relatives of suspects were denied access to the detainees but those who could afford legal representation were able to meet with counsels in a timely manner.
It further observes that while the law requires government to provide legal services to indigent detainees (through the Legal Aid Bureau), such was provided almost exclusively to suspects charged with homicide.
At the time of compiling its report, the bureau had 15 lawyers and 18 paralegals located in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu.
On arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful or politically motivated killings, the report observes 43 suspects died at the hands of police within eight months in 2018 while in 2017 they were also suspected of responsibility for at least 70 other deaths.
But in an interview, human rights campaigner Robert Mkwezalamba concurred with the report on the issue of “arrest or search warrants only work for the big fish” and not the majority who accept to be arrested on trust that it is by a police officer. He urged authorities and stakeholders to embark on awareness campaigns for the people to understand the law in relation to arrest and search warrants.