Since December last year, 12 lives have been lost to mob justice in the Southern Region alone.
Two suspected thieves were killed by separate mobs in Mulanje and Mwanza in December, the same month a woman was burnt to death in Phalombe on suspicion of having a hand in the death of her boyfriend; in January, four elderly people were hacked to death in Neno on suspicion of practicing witchcraft; and seven men, who were found with human bones, were burnt alive in Nsanje last month. This, however, only gives a glimpse of the wave of mob justice the country is experiencing.
Acting National Secretary for Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) Martin Chiphwanya—whose organisation also focuses on how justice is dispensed in the country—on Tuesday said the act and the frequency of mob justice is worrisome.
“CCJP has interacted with Malawians from various communities across the country as it implements nationwide projects and we have noted a dangerous trend of increased cases of mob justice,” he said.
Chiphwanya said although their approach was not systematic or scientific, the discussions CCJP has held has unearthed various reasons to account for mob justice and its frequency.
“From what we have gathered, many people are frustrated due to negative socio-economic factors that have been registered in the country.
“It is no longer a secret that many people are frustrated and that has a direct bearing on how people behave. Normally, people with suppressed emotions tend to act angrily whenever they find an opportunity to vent their frustrations on. That explains why many suspects are being killed by angry mobs,” he said.
The trends were confirmed by Southern Region Police spokesperson James Kadadzera, who blamed the situation on people’s attitudes on crime management.
“From the cases we have registered, there is no justification whatsoever for people to take the law into their own hands. Much as most cases of mob justice have happened in areas which are far from police posts, there are other avenues to deal with suspected criminals. We have community police groups which assist in taking suspects to police,” he said.
According to Kadadzera, the police are not taking the issue lying down and have been arresting people suspected to have taken part in mob justice.
“We want to set an example to those that take the law into their own hands. We are not going to relent but we will round up all suspects of mob justice. Malawi is a country governed by laws, as such we cannot allow lawlessness to take root. The law says every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law which prescribes punishments for offenders,” said Kadadzera.
Police officials in the Southern Region have confirmed that 10 people are being held on remand waiting to answer murder charges following the killing of the four elderly people in January this year.
However, arrests are yet to be made on the people who torched seven suspects in Nsanje some two weeks ago.
Hamilton Genti from Nsanje, where the latest incident took place, blamed the police for failing public expectations.
“A number of those people who were burnt by the mob had criminal records. This means communities had done their part to report the suspects to police but for one reason or the other they were released. That is the reason why people resort to punishing suspects on their own. Most people feel that criminals will not face justice if handed over to police,” he said.
While condemning communities for killing suspects, Chiphwanya encouraged the police to up their game in handling criminals.
“Of course, the people may have a point, but still that does not justify killing of suspects. However, the police need to ensure that their handling of suspects is treated with sensitivity. Releasing suspects that have bad blood with communities is dangerous. But there might be other factors such as legal matters that should also be considered. All in all, people need to be educated on these issues,” he said.
The National Police Headquarters in Lilongwe has been issuing public notices warning Malawians from self-punishing crime suspects. n