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Handcuffed for days in custody

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MHANGO—We must tame abuse of power

A man arrested over theft allegations is on the verge of losing both hands after being handcuffed for days in a police cell. THOMAS KACHERE writes.

On 6 last month, Yohane Mkoko, 40, from Ndirande in Blantyre, was picked by his boss, a bar owner, to the township’s police station to explain if he knew the drinking place had been broken into.

Mkoko says, on the morning of the day, he undertook a number of activities including loading beer into refrigerators and cleaning the floor before the place was closed.

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Everyone left for lunch.

Between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, he returned to work, by which time most bars in the neighbourhood had also opened.

“The bartender opened the place where I used to work and told me he suspected a break-in,” Mkoko explained from a bed at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, where he has been admitted to.

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He and the bartender inspected the place but found that no item had been taken away.

“Later, the bartender said some of the beer had been stolen. All other equipment such as the entertainment unit was still in its place,” Mkoko said.

Around 5pm, the bar owner, a Mr Chikaoneka, reportedly picked him up to Ndirande Police Station so that he could explain what had happened.

Apparently, at the station, the police officers and his boss interacted in English for some time before one officer told his colleagues to lock Mkoko up.

He could not grasp the discussion.

“I spent the night in the cell without having my statement recorded. Days continued to pass. I was being tortured in custody while still in handcuffs.

“Then my hands started swelling. I had great struggles using or just moving them because the pain was too much,” Mkoko explained.

Eleven days after staying in the cell, police officers noticed his condition and told him to go home.

Apparently, one officer commiserated with him and gave him money for transport.

Well-wishers took him to the hospital after noting his deteriorating condition.

Now, a lawyer has taken up the matter and wants justice to be served for his client.

“He should get compensation because that is not the way someone can be treated in custody. Additionally, the police officers who handled him should be disciplined to avoid similar cases in the future,” said the lawyer, Wayne Kajawo.

He is also considering referring the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which was established to check brutality and other abuses perpetrated by cops.

According to Section 129 of the Police Act, the commission has the mandate of receiving and investigating complaints by the public against officers and the service, to investigate death or injury as a result of police action and to investigate deaths or injuries that occur in police custody.

Kajawo is non-committal to disclose how much his client would demand apparently because “he is in recovery state”.

“We were warned that he may be amputated, which we hope will not happen. We will make clear determinations depending on how he comes out of all this,” the lawyer said.

Victor Mhango, Executive Director of Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance, bemoans the conduct of law enforcers who torture suspects in their custody to points where the suspects risk having their limbs amputated.

Mhango has since challenged Malawi Police Service Inspector General (IG) George Kainja to institute investigations and get to the bottom of the matter.

He further wants police officers hooked up in Mkoko’s case to be arrested so they can face the long arm of the law “because no one is above the law”.

“We must tame abuse of power. It is high time we had a serious and professional police service. We should conduct proper investigations and the IG should act; otherwise, this is painting a very bad picture of the service,” Mhango said.

Southern Region Police spokesperson, Ramsey Mushani, said he could not comment on Mkoko’s case because he is on holiday while Limbe Police Public Relations Officer Maxwell Jailosi said he needed more time to get details of the case.

Section 42(1) of the Constitution provides that every detained person shall have the right to be informed of the reason for the detention promptly and in a language that they understand.

It further states that a person should be detained under conditions consistent with human dignity, including at least the provision of reading and writing materials, adequate nutrition and medical treatment at the expense of the State.

However, several people in detention have had their rights abused by officers who are supposed to respect provisions of Section 42 of the Constitution.

In the past, police came under fire over the death in their custody of a suspect Lule Buleya and the sexual assault of women and girls in three locations of Lilongwe rural.

Mkoko hopes his case will help all victims of police brutality access justice regardless of who is involved.

“At least, I should have been told what my crime really was. Now, my life has been greatly affected,” Mkoko said.

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