Police faulted in July 20 protests – report


The commission of inquiry established to look into the events of last July 20 has urged government to ensure police officers responsible for the 20 deaths and injuries are investigated and prosecuted.

“Indeed, any person suspected to have been responsible for any unlawful conduct before, during and after the demonstrations must be investigated and where necessary, prosecuted. These investigations must be broad enough to cover persons suspected of looting and damaging property and the ‘panga’ incident that occurred on the 19th July 2011 in Blantyre,” says the commission’s report, submitted to the public by President Joyce Banda last week.

The report also says police demonstrated lack of sufficient human and material resources to quell the demonstrations.

The commission, appointed by the former president Bingu wa Mutharika in October 2011, also established that the number of police officers in the country was below the Sadc recommended ratio of 1 to 500.

“On material resources, the commission established that the police lacked sufficient non-lethal weapons which resulted in use of lethal weapons. The police also lacked sufficient logistical equipment like vehicles and communication equipment,” reads the report.

The commission also established that in certain cases, the police demonstrated lack of crowd management skills. The officers are also accused of lacking skills in handling of lethal weapons.

“The commission, however, reiterates its earlier finding that the police demonstrated good crowd management skills along designated marching routes,” says the report which was chaired by Apostle Timothy Khoviwa.

The commission also said there were glaring gaps in the planning process.

Adds the report: “The commission further established that strategies of cooperation with other relevant agencies, for instance, fire departments in the cities and hospitals were kept out of the operational details. As such, hospitals were not prepared and in most cases ill-equipped to handle the casualties. Indeed, the police should have informed first aiders and make them part of the process.”

National police publicist Davie Chingwalu this week refused to comment on the report, arguing he had not read it. He further argued that the President already asked Attorney General Ralph Kasambara to carefully study the report and advise on whether the roles played by various individuals revealed criminal conduct requiring prosecution or misconduct necessitating other administrative action.

The President said she will use the report to help in reforming of the Malawi Police Service which must strive to be an independent institution and should not intimidate the public nor act as an arm of the ruling party.

During the July 20 demonstrations, 20 people died after they took to the streets to protest against the country’s then worsening economic situation and the passing of draconian laws that stifled public liberties.

Human rights activist Billy Mayaya, who was one of the organisers of the July 20 demonstrations, observed that the report does not triangulate its sources in order to provide an in-depth analysis of all the factors that led to July 20th.

Khoviwa refused to comment on why utterances of Mutharika on MBC before and after the demonstrations were overlooked.

“It is the commission’s position not to comment further. We did our job to the best of our knowledge,” said Khoviwa.

Minister of Information and Civic Education Moses Kunkuyu said President Banda presented the report to the public in its original form.

Said the minister: “If there is a fault, then that should be shouldered by the commission. But Malawians remember what happened during and after the demonstrations.”

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