Fighting crime with crime?


John’s everyday life is a life of inner torment. He is trying his best to get reformed, integrate into society and return to good ways.

“My heart is being haunted. I will be on ‘operation elimination’ list,” the ex-convict laments.

He served six years in prison after being found with a gun and a car which had been used in a spate of robberies around Blantyre.


John was initially slapped with 13 years imprisonment after being charged with two counts of armed robbery and being found in possession of a gun without a licence.

“I appealed the sentence because I was only an accomplice to the robberies because the people involved in the robberies were my friends and I was their driver using my car.

“My sentence was reduced to six years. I spent four years at Chichiri Prison and two years at Zomba Prison,” he says.


During the incidents, he was married with three children. He says the time he spent in prison taught him tough lessons and that he did not want his children to grow up in the absence of their father.

“The day I was released from prison, on March 13 last year, I made a decision to change my way of life and become a better person in society. I did not have to wait for someone to tell me this,” John narrates.

After his release, he sourced funds from family and friends and ventured into a car-washing business in the populous township of Ndirande in Blantyre to rebuild his life and earn a decent living.

However, his hopes of recovery were short-lived. On the morning of January 4 this year, police officers from the Crime Investigation Department (CID) in Blantyre stormed his business premises where they ordered him to take them to his house.

They allegedly conducted a search there without saying what he had done wrong or what they were looking for.

“They did not find anything that showed I had committed a crime or that simply showed I was involved in criminal activities.

One officer asked me how I had been helping the police since I was released from prison. I was surprised and told them I had not been doing anything apart from trying to get my life back together,” John states.

He was allegedly taken into custody at Limbe Police Station where he was given pictures and told to identify some suspected robbers if he knew them. John says he could not identify any of the people.

“After four days, I was released on bail and was told to be reporting to the police station once every month.”

John added that in July, the police officers came again to the place where he was operating his car-washing business and asked him to get into the car for some questioning.

“I got in and the car started moving. I told them I did not want to go anywhere with them because as far as I was concerned, I had no case to answer. One police officer let me get off the car; then they started chasing me with a gun but I was able to go ahead of them and found a hiding place.

“By this time, I had heard about how some ex-convicts had been followed by the police and were killed. This made me go into hiding for fear of losing my life in the so called ‘operation elimination’,” he says.

He has been in hiding ever since.

“I don’t know what they want from me; I want to live a clean life.”

The story typifies those of some other 26 men whose only crime was having once broken the law. They were not too lucky.

According to a preliminary report of an investigation carried out by the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), there have been more cases of extrajudicial killings that are alleged to have been carried out by the police.

The report indicates that 26 ex-convicts were shot by the police in very suspicious circumstances. Three were alleged to have died in a road accident although two of them had gunshot wounds.

One person was found alive and two of the alleged victims’ families were not willing to give information.

Chreaa’s human rights lawyer, Chikondi Chijozi, says some former prisoners reached out to them that they have fears of being killed by the police because some of their friends have been eliminated.

She adds that their investigation managed to unearth a common denominator among all victims: They had served their prison sentences. Their bodies were taken to mortuaries by the police who claimed they were suspected robbers who had been attempting to escape.

“During our investigation, some police officers spoke on condition of anonymity and said there were indeed deliberate executions that the police were conducting to eliminate criminals as one way of reducing crime” she says.

One officer who was interviewed apparently admitted that shooting someone more than once cannot be an act of a stray bullet.

The victims are said to be hardcore criminals whose pictures are displayed in the CID office at Blantyre Police Station.

“When we get tired of their crimes, we just shoot them to eliminate them,” an officer is alleged to have revealed during the investigation by Chreaa.

“There is nothing like stray bullets here. These people were being executed in Chikwawa but now the executions take place in various places as long as there are no people nearby,” the report quotes a police officer as having said.

Further, Chreaa also indicates that in all the cases that have been presented in the preliminary report, families that tried to get post-mortem results on the deaths of their relatives were denied access to the reports by hospital officials who claimed to have given the reports to the police.

However, Malawi Police Service spokesperson, James Kadadzera, denied reports that the police were carrying out extrajudicial killings.

He added that the cops are trained to safeguard life according the laws of this country and all other treaties that promote the right to life that Malawi is party to.

“There are some instances where the police have exchanged fire with robbers. Some officers and the robbers themselves have even lost their lives in the process. These are not necessarily extrajudicial killings,” Kadadzera said.

The police spokesperson claims inquests were carried out on deaths of the 26 and that the police are ready to give the results out on request.

The statement contradicts Chreaa’s report which says no inquest was carried out.

“While we are fulfilling our duty, we also have to protect ourselves. We actually don’t know why focus has only been put only on the side of the suspects while even police officers have been killed in certain instances,” Kadadzera added.

On the way forward, Chijozi says the report has been presented to the Office of the Ombudsman for further investigation and a call to action on the alleged atrocities that violate the right to life.

John hopes the report will help bring justice to his knees and allow him to live freely again and integrate into society.

“I served my jail term. All I want is to be able to fend for my family and live in peace. I hope the police understand that a convict can be reformed to a meaningful life,” he laments expectantly.

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