There are doubts over the legitimacy of Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers who were convicted of shooting and killing protesters during the July 20 2011 nationwide demonstrations against government.
This follows the acquittal on murder charges of sub-inspector Isaac Andrew Kamwala after the court found that the State failed to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that he caused the death of 24-year-old Edward Kang’ombe.
The deceased was one of the 20 Malawians that were shot dead by police officers during the two-day protests. Kang’ombe met his fate at Lumbadzi Trading Centre in Lilongwe on July 21 2011.
MPS instituted an internal investigations team comprising eight police officers who were, among others, tasked with documenting what had transpired and determine whether there was excessive use of force.
Following the probe, a number of police officers, including Kamwala, were alleged to have been behind the shooting and killing of the 20 protesters.
In March 2016, Kamwala was found with a case to answer following the conclusion of the prosecution’s case in which four witnesses were called. The accused later proceeded to his defence where he testified himself and called three other witnesses.
In her ruling, High Court Judge Fiona Mwale of Lilongwe Registry acquitted Kamwala for being a mere sacrificial lamb while the deceased’s real killer was left scot free.
According to the court document, eye-witnesses at the scene identified the shooter as a tall, dark and medium-built police officer named Banda and not Kamwala. Banda was then based at Lumbadzi Police Sub-Station and limps as he has a problem with one of his legs.
“Whilst the accused person has not been proved to have caused the death, the deceased’s killer is still at large and the evidence of the accused in this public record is important for bringing the real killer to justice.
“Having considered all the evidence of the prosecution witness, it is very clear that the State has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the death of the deceased was caused by the accused… it behoves me to acquit the accused person without further ado,” reads the ruling.
One of the eight investigators, who was also prosecution witnesses in the case Ireen Kaphantengo Kainja based at Southern Region Police Headquarters, testified that during her probe she tried to meet and interrogate Banda, but he always evaded her.
“At one point she met him elsewhere and ordered him to meet her at the office, but he defied her order and never turned up. That very day her boss asked her to hand over the investigation file,” wrote Mwale in her ruling.
According to the court document, Kaphantengo Kainja never completed her investigations after she was ordered by her boss to hand over the file for prosecution even though she had indicated that it was not ready for court.
The court further stated that there was no evidence that Kamwala was the only one who had live ammunition on the day of the incident.
The ruling further states serious allegations against the Officer-in-Charge at Lumbadzi (a Mrs. E. Sato) as the person who was responsible for doctoring the registers to show that Kamwala was the only one with ammunition.
Commenting on the issue, human rights activist Timothy Mtambo said what the police did was the kind of impunity they have been fighting all along.
“There is a lot of impunity to the extent that perpetrators are left off the hook while innocent citizens who have no backing are the ones who are put on trial. Justice must not be selective, it must flow like water without looking at who has committed what,” said Mtambo who is executive director of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR).
Mtambo also queried the police launching investigations to probe itself, arguing there was no independence and demanded the authorities to ensure that the alleged real culprit, Banda, who was mentioned by eyewitnesses, faces justice.
The protests escalated into two days of unrest and rioting with wide-scale looting of both public and private property.
Attempts to get a comment from National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera proved futile as the phone went unanswered despite several attempts.