Bereaved family of Justin Phiri, one of the 19 people who were arrested in Karonga District during last week’s demonstrations for allegedly causing violence, has said postmortem of the 29 year-old who died in police custody, will be conducted today by an independent expert.
Lawyer for the family, Bracious Kondowe disclosed that after the postmortem, Phiri will be laid to rest on Sunday in Mzimba District.
Initially, it was planned that after the postmortem, the body would be taken to Karonga for viewing.
“The family has identified an independent expert who will conduct the postmortem on Saturday morning. There was an arrangement that the body would go to Karonga for viewing but the family has changed the plan. The family is still mobilising resources for the cause and is still asking well-wishers to help,” he said.
Kondowe argued that the option for an independent expert to conduct postmortem was made for fear that leaving it to the police alone could give the law enforcers room to alter results on what killed Phiri.
In an earlier interview, mother to the deceased, Gertrude Tembo, said she feels her son had been tortured in the cell and in Karonga during their encounter with the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers.
Tembo said she insisted to take her son to the hospital after observing that his condition was getting worse, but was not allowed to do so until his death.
Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) through its Executive Secretary, David Nungu, said the commission has not yet made a position on the kind of action to be taken but the circumstances of the death raise prima facie violations of the right to life.
He said there is likelihood that the Commission would handle this matter as part of a comprehensive case which they are exploring in Karonga District.
“The circumstances suggest arbitrary deprivation of life prohibited under Section 16 of the Constitution of the Republic. Considering that it is alleged that this death occurred in police custody and that the matter herein is criminal in nature, the Commission posits that the Malawi Police Service would take up the matter. Otherwise, likelihood is that the Commission would handle this matter as part of the comprehensive case,” he said.
Deputy National Police Public Relations Officer, Thomeck Nyaude, said they are formalising an inquest on the matter.
“There is that report in Mzuzu and the procedure is that when somebody dies whilst waiting to answer charges in the court of law, there has to be an inquest, and we are formalising the inquest,” he said.
On the investigations to establish circumstances that led MDF soldiers to attack demonstrators in Karonga during the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations on Wednesday last week, MHRC said the investigations are continuing.
“The Commission would not only investigate the allegations of beatings of ‘demonstrators’ but also the ‘violence and attacks on security personnel— including officers from the Malawi Police Service and MDF’ as both beatings and violence manifest human rights issues,” he said.
About 10 MDF soldiers and over 20 civilians sustained injuries of different degrees after the demonstrations reportedly turned ugly.