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‘Msundwe rape claims untrue’

Says a police investigation report into the controversial sexual abuse saga that is now a subject of re-investigation

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While the country is debating the K376.5 million windfall—K121.5 million for the alleged victims of what is dubbed Msundwe Rape case and K255 million for their lawyers who represented them pro-bono— a Malawi Police Service (MPS) investigation report dated February 2020 has doubted the sexual assault claims.

It describes some of the claims as “make-up stories”, “false” and without “sufficient” and “corroborating” evidence.

The report, titled ‘Investigation report on alleged sexual abuse of women and girls by police officers at M’bwatalika and Mpingu Trading Centres’, alleges that the said rape victims were coaxed into making the claims by some politically-connected individuals—with a lawyer, a Member of Parliament and local area politicians being the masterminds.

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The findings

The report reads in part: “Considering the publicity and literature about the so-called rape (sexual harassments), the amount of information found is sparse (scattered) indeed and that there is a considerable amount of conflicting information. Certainly, there is no evidence to substantiate the allegations.”

It adds that all the victims said they could not identify any suspect.

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“Despite the claim by the alleged victims that they cannot identify the police officers alleged to have perpetrated the incidents all police officers on duty were interviewed and all deny to the allegation.

“With lack of direct and corroborating evidence, the allegations seem to be untrue and false,” it says.

The investigators say that the women were enticed to allege the sexual harassments incidents so that they can get compensation.

“A lot of stories were gathered that the intention of the victims were to make allegations aimed at seeking compensation in future,” claims the report in a summary of one file.

According to the report, some of the medical reports that were presented as evidence were forged and illegally obtained.

“The hospitals, where they allege to have been examined, are dishonouring [sic] the medical reports,” it says.

The report also wonders why the victims avoided government and Cham [Christian Health Association of Malawi] hospitals that were “within reach by foot”. Instead, they were taken to other far off hospitals two weeks later.

In addition, it says, the victims never reported the matter to police on their own. They did so only after being approached by some politicians [names withheld] and MHRC officials.

“During scene visit, six victims [names withheld] were not available following the advice given by some politicians. Based on information gathered from all possible witnesses and suspects, it showed that the situation on the ground was volatile such that no acts of sexual contact could easily be perpetrated by any police officer,” reads part of the report.

The report further questions how all the said sexual offences could have been committed at around the same time — 11am.

It further argues that all victims cannot identify the suspects except one who said that she could identify the physical appearance of the suspect but not by the face.

“In addition to that, the victim in question attended hospital three times for the same issue for different reasons. Therefore her complaint is quite questionable. None of the alleged sexual harassment has got corroborated evidence such as positive medical confirmation results.

“Many incidents are alleged to have occurred at the same time which cannot happen in normal circumstances. This is an indicator that the allegations were maliciously planned and originated by some interested quarters for their own reasons.

“According to findings during scene visit of incidents as reported at Mpingu, it has been discovered that the situation was volatile and that the distance between the trading centre where the [police] base was located and the village  houses is very far, such that it could have been difficult for someone to carry out such acts comfortably,” reads the report.

‘Inconsistent stories’

The investigators examined case by case of each woman alleged to have been sexually violated and assaulted.

They say their stories were inconsistent with the facts on the ground or that they were coached to tow a certain line of narration.

“In general terms, the issue/question of whether rape was committed could have been better established if the victims had gone to the hospital in good time. Although this could have [resolved] the issue of rape, still it could not have resolved the question of who committed the offence.

“Again it would be unreasonable to allege that all officers who were deployed to the area committed the offence of rape. Still, even if that approach could be taken, it would be impossible to provide such evidence in a court sufficient to sustain a conviction,” concludes the report.

About a claim by one woman that she was impregnated during the rape, the investigators say they established that the woman was already two-months pregnant at the time of the incident.

Another victim had claimed that she was infected with some disease during the said rape. But the police investigators say they found that her medical passport showed she was on treatment at the time of the events.

The then Director of Criminal Investigation Department, Stain Chaima, instituted the team on 31 December 2019.

It comprised 6 members as follows: Agness Mwabumba, Regional Criminal Investigations Officer for the North; Diederichs Banda, Officer In-Charge for Crime Analysis; Master Nkhoma, Regional Criminal Investigations Officer, South; Chrissy Mwale, Regional Criminal Investigations Officer, East; Florence Chiwambo, Station Criminal Investigation Officer for Mwanza and John Petro, a detective at Fiscal Police, Blantyre.

They conducted the re-interviews in the company of some MHRC officials and traditional leaders from the area.

MHRC investigation

The police investigation came after MHRC’s which took place two weeks after the incident.

The said sexual abuse happened when police went to the area to restore peace and order following the stoning to death of a police officer, Usumani Imedi, by protestors in the morning that day.

In its report, the MHRC says in the course of operations of clearing the road, controlling the crowds and making arrests, some police officers ventured as far as 1 kilometre into the villages and nearby locations, throwing teargas into houses, beating up people and breaking into houses and properties therein.

“As a result, most people especially men and the youth fled their villages to their gardens, leaving the villages deserted. Some of the women left behind in the village as others fled or arrived in the villages after the others had fled, in particular, Mpingu and M’bwatalika, were met with police officers who violently beat them, raped and indecently assaulted them,” it says.

According to MHRC investigation which was led by commissioners Martha Chizuma and Rosemary Kanyuka, a total of 17 women were sexually violated.

Four of them were children below the age of 18 and one of these was defiled and the three were indecently assaulted.

Eight of them were sexually assaulted, defiled and raped in Mpingu whilst the rest were raped and assaulted in M’bwatalika.

There was no case of sexual violence that the Commission came about in Msundwe.

The MHRC report further says most of the victims did not seek medical assistance in form of medical examination soon or a day after the ordeal and before they washed.

“The reasons for this ranged from the impossibility of obtaining referral letter from the police to the hospital because of the non-availability of police service in the area at that time, not considering it because of the trauma they had suffered, long-distance to the public health centre and having no money to pay for the medical assistance at a nearby private clinic.

“At the [insistence] of the Commission some of the survivors went to the hospital for medical examination almost two weeks after the incident. Some of the survivors were raped right in the presence of their children some of whom are able to recount the incident and describe the police officers penis in great detail. Only two survivors claim they can identify their assailants,” reads the report.

The MHRC report indicates the limitations of the investigation and mitigation factors saying the investigation was conducted almost one week after the alleged violations had been committed.

“This was due to the fact that the Commission only heard about the allegations a few days after the incidents. In addition, due to the tense situation prevailing in the area, it took time for the Commission to establish contact with community leaders to help with preliminary inquiries.

“Medical examination on the survivors was conducted late leading to the probable loss of forensic evidence to prove the allegation. However, mitigating factors include the survivors’ own testimony and witness evidence, particularly where two or more survivors were raped, defiled or indecently assaulted in each other’s presence,” reads part of the report.

Fresh investigation

We sought comment from MHRC on the police report.

The Commission’s spokesperson Kate Kujaliwe said MHRC issued its report in 2019 on their findings.

That report is the basis on which the Malawi Police Service together with other stakeholders have developed Terms of Reference for fresh criminal investigations in the matter.

“Therefore, the Commission cannot comment on this matter until the fresh investigations are completed,” she said.

MPS, MHRC, WLA and the United Nations Development Programme have agreed to jointly conduct a fresh investigation into the alleged rape and sexual abuses.

We also sent questions to WLAM president Immaculate Maluza. Her response was as follows:

“I have gone through the questions again. They seem targeted at the criminal investigation. I am not in a position to discuss that. Further, I cannot comment on evidentiary issues in an ongoing investigation. Thus, I am not in a position to respond to these questions as it goes beyond WLAs mandate.”

On his part, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera confirmed that the Malawi Police Service conducted a criminal investigation into the alleged rape and defilement of 18 women and girls from M’bwatalika and Mpingu areas in Lilongwe by police officers on October 8, 2019.

“However, these criminal investigations did not establish the identity of the police officers and any other person who would be charged with the alleged rape and defilement. After the Women Lawyers Association instituted civil proceedings, the High Court ordered the service to produce the criminal investigation report.

“The service dutifully produced the criminal investigation report to the Court. The same was also shared with the Women Lawyers Association who highlighted a number of gaps and grey areas that required addressing,” he claimed.

Kadadzera said the other challenge with the previous criminal investigations was that the victims complained that they were harassed during the investigations, which rendered the findings questionable.

He said it is in this view that the MPS in collaboration with the MHRC and the WLAM have decided to conduct a fresh investigation.

“The key purpose of these fresh investigations is to identify culprits and gather credible and admissible evidence for their prosecution.

“To avoid prejudicing the said fresh investigations, the service has decided not to comment on the specifics of the previous investigations,” said Kadadzera in a written response.

In his ruling on August 13, 2020, High Court Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda ordered the Malawi Police Service to compensate the 18 women and arrest 17 police officers implicated for the crimes.

Nyirenda said the victims needed to be compensated for the trauma they suffered at the hands of the police.

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