Caught in the act
An amateur video leaked to Malawi News shows that prison warders and inmates were actually the ones that unleashed terror on two inmates that had escaped from Chichiri Prison in January this year, a harassment which led to the death of one of the escapees and leaving the other severely injured.
This evidence, including some from witnesses we spoke with this week, sharply contradicts the claim by the prison authorities then when they told our sister paper The Daily Times that the two had been beaten up by an angry mob that had apprehended them in Chitawira Township.
On January 27 2016, Chichiri Prison spokesperson Mike Mpopo told The Daily Times that the two, John Emmanuel and Madison John, had been beaten up by civilians in Chitawira Township after they had escaped from the prison.
“It was on Sunday when the incident occurred and, fortunately, we were alert as usual and we managed to capture both of them though one got injured when he was jumping the fence. At the time they were caught there were some civilians who beat them up,” said Mpopo at that time.
But mobile phone video clippings we have obtained tell a story different from what the Mpopo said as to who beat up the escapees.
The video, discreetly taken by a Chitawira resident who was at the scene then, show inmates and prison warders being the only ones taking part in dragging the two escapees down into the trench and then on the tarred road and pummeling and kicking them in the face and all around the body.
The blows keep raining on them even as the two cry relentlessly from the pain they are suffering from.
The clippings show a few civilians standing by the road watching the prison warders and inmates unleashing the terror.
What this video captured has also been independently corroborated by two other witnesses [names withheld] one of whom runs a small business close to where the incident happened.
The two told Malawi News this week that the two prisoners were indeed apprehended by passers-by in responding to the calls by prison authorities who were in pursuit of the two escapees.
But the mob did not beat them up as Chichiri Prison authorities claimed, they said.
“The prison warders and the inmates were in chase. And they were shouting asking people to help with catching the two. Some passersby indeed apprehended the two and soon afterwards the warders and inmates arrived, dragged the two on to the road and started beating them up. They are the ones that beat up the two and not the mob,” said one of the witnesses
According to another witness, at the time of the incident a vehicle carrying three whites stopped by and one of them came out and started capturing the incident on her mobile phone.
“One inmate saw this, swooped on her and confiscated the phone from her. At the time they left this place, the woman had not been given her phone back and we just saw her going to the prison but we don’t know what happened there.
“But in terms of the beating of the two, it was not the mob. It was the inmates helped by the prison warders,” he said.
At the time of the report in January, Emmanuel was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Central for treatment for the severe injuries he suffered while John was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital soon after the incident.
The deceased, according to Mpopo, had been convicted of robbery with violence and sent to Zomba Maximum Prison where he also attempted to jump his nine-year jail term sentence. This led to his being transferred to Chichiri Prison.
Emmanuel was serving a four-year jail term for breaking into a building and committing felony therein.
When contacted to comment on what the video captured, Mpopo downplayed the evidence, only saying on the day of the incident, there were indeed inmates that were working outside the facility.
“But they were not involved in any way in catching the escapees or beating them up,” he insisted.
He said the escapees were caught by one of the officers who had just knocked off from work with the assistance of some Chitawira residents and passers-by.
On the phone that was confiscated from one passer-by, Mpopo said: “The phone and a purse containing money that belonged to a Medecins Sans Frontieres’ worker were only kept for safety.
“She came to us and collected them. She even confirmed that everything in the purse including money was as it was at the time they were taken from her,” Mpopo said.
Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) has since described the incident as an act of brutality that does not conform to human rights.
Executive Director for Chreaa Victor Mhango said whether the two were beaten up by a mob or the prison warders, the act was corporal punishment which is not allowed in the laws of the country.
“We actually understand how difficult is it to apprehend someone who has bolted. But no one has the mandate to take the law into their hands because there are institutions such as the courts that are mandated to handle those issues,” Mhango said.
He said the Prison Act which is currently under review calls for protection of prisoners from harm.
John came from Mchima Village in Traditional Authority Nsamala in Balaka while Emmanuel comes from Chapala Village in Traditional Authority Kasisi in Chikwawa
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