Barely a week after revelations that Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers allegedly sexually abused women and girls in Lilongwe’s areas of Msundwe, M’bwatalika and Mpingu, more victims have come out to narrate their ordeal.
The common denominator in the narrations is that all the victims have strongly alleged that the police officers physically and sexually abused the women.
“I was in the kitchen cooking for my grandfather who was sick. Suddenly I saw a lot of police officers coming towards our house. One police officer told me to stop. I didn’t. I entered our house to hide, they told me to come out I refused. The police officer then broke into the house and started beating me, “one of the victims narrated.
As the 18-year old narrated the ordeal to Malawi News crew on Thursday, once in a while, she would stop, wipe her tears; stop again, as if to make her points sink in the minds of the crew.
“I cried so that he should have mercy on me but he told me to remove all my clothes, which I did. He started beating me again until I lost consciousness,” she said.
Her mother, Maness Benjamin, said what unfolded eroded her trust in the Malawi Police Service.
“I have grown up knowing that police officers are supposed to protect us. I did not think, in any way, that one day the same officers, whom I have grown up trusting, would be in the forefront abusing me,” narrates the resident of Mpingu.
This was Thursday October 17, 2019, exactly eight days after the police raided the area, apparently investigating a case in which irate people from Msundwe and surrounding areas had stoned to death Usumani Imedi, a police officer who had gone to the area together with his colleagues to restore order following riots by communities.
She said police officers fired teargas canisters in all directions. Her house is 300 metres from Mpingu Trading Centre.
“We decided to hide in our house but four masked police officers broke the door and fired teargas in the house. They told me to enter my bedroom and forced my daughter to take off all her clothes,” Benjamin said.
She continued: “She took off the clothes in front of the officer, leaving out underwear only. He then started beating me after ordering me to go to my bedroom; I felt a lot of pain. I am still feeling pain in my body.”
Malawi News investigation also found that the alleged police officers
raided and looted shops, bottle stores and torched a stationary vehicle at Mpingu Trading Centre.
Thomas (not real name) witnessed how police officers used a mat to torch a vehicle that was behind one of the shops.
He said in the morning October 8, 2019, he saw police vehicles passing Mpingu Trading Centre going towards Msundwe. He said they heard they were going where people had blocked the road.
“From nowhere, one police officer broke a glass of the vehicle. One police officer set alight the vehicle. I was just looking as the vehicle was burning,” he said.
One of the many women who narrated to Malawi News about what they went through, said they were afraid to report about the incident.
Malawi News went to Msundwe and interviewed one of the victims who is in agony after being shot.
“I was in my shop doing my business, when people started blocking the road. I closed my shop and went home, and as I was home sleeping my wife came to tell me that police vehicles were all over Msundwe Trading Centre firing teargas to the demonstrators and that we have to move to a safe place with the children, which we did,” he said.
“In the evening, as we were coming from where we were hiding, I wanted to go and buy food. I felt like my hand was being removed and I touched it…it was this time I released that I was shot. I was taken to a nearby health facility, where I was referred to Kamuzu Central hospital. I suffered multiple fractures on my left arm,” he added.
He alleges that while at the hospital he was ill-treated, adding that they never gave him any medical report until he was released on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, government through the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare says it is horrified with the allegations against the law enforcers.
“The Ministry is deeply concerned by these serious allegations that border on disregard for women’s rights and exploitation of their vulnerability.
The Ministry would like to assure the general public that it is working with all key institutions to ensure that the allegations are investigated to their logical conclusions,” reads the statement in part, signed by Principal Secretary in the ministry.
It has also urged the public to protect and respect the privacy of the victims.
“The Ministry is calling upon the public to desist from sharing materials that may reveal their identity such as photographs, videos or names. It is the wish of the Ministry that we should all focus on protecting, restoring dignity and ensuring that justice takes place to the alleged victims,” the statement adds.
Meanwhile, the Malawi Police Service says it has instituted an inquiry into the alleged defilement, rape and theft in the three areas by its officers.
In a statement released on Thursday, National Police Public Relations Officer, James Kadadzera, said the inquiry team will be led by Eastern Region Police Commissioner, Arlene Baluwa.
“The Malawi Police Service shall at all times strive to fulfill its constitutional mandate of ensuring public safety of citizenry according to the prescriptions of the constitution and any other law. The MPS values impartiality, independence, professionalism, openness and accountability in the quest of creating a safe and secure nation. The nation will be updated on the progress and results of the investigation within the shortest period of time,” reads the statement.
However, Gender activists and other advocates have said there is need to put in place measures to ensure victims feel safe to go to report to specific agencies as their abuser, like in this instance, are police officers.
Women Legal Resource Centre (Wolrec) Executive Director, Maggie Kathewera- Banda, has proposed that there should be an independent inquiry on the issue.
“As Wolrec the best arrangement would be a totally independent commission not attached to police. All allegations of police misconduct should be investigated completely independently of the police,” Kathewera-Banda said.
Malawi Human Right Commission (MHRC) has meanwhile written the Inspector General of Police (IG), informing him that MHRC has also commissioned its separate investigations into the allegations.
Last week, angry residents of Nsundwe had barricaded the Lilongwe –Mchinji road at their territory, burning tyres and engaged in running battles with the police, allegeldy in protest of the decision by President Peter Mutharika to hold his first rally since the May 21 Tripartite Elections in Lilongwe, widely considered a stronghold of the opposition Malawi Congress Party.
It was in the aftermath of the fracas where Imedi died that the police besieged the area and carried out the alleged sexual and physical abuse.