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over Zim deaths in custody
Chivara, Mail and Guardian
January 11, 2013
police are allegedly killing criminal suspects in custody, Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights has claimed.
ZLHR, a non-governmental
organisation that fights for the rights of citizens by instituting
litigation and representing victims, said it has documented evidence
of a trend of people allegedly being tortured and killed after being
A senior police officer
told the Mail & Guardian that criminals have become a "bother
and burden to the state" and that a policy of killing criminals
in custody "is nothing new in the force".
The lawyers' body claims
to have documented more than a dozen cases over the past two years
in which suspects have died in suspicious circumstances.
Tawanda Zhuwarara, a
ZLHR member who litigates for the relatives of suspects that have
died in police custody, said he had noticed "a disturbing pattern,
and the similarities cannot be mere coincidence. Suspects are arrested,
injured while in custody [and] suddenly they are allegedly shot
while allegedly attempting to escape."
between police reports and state autopsies, on the one hand, and
the testimony of relatives, friends and independent postmortems
on the other point to possible countrywide killing of suspects flowing
from an undeclared policy, the ZLHR said.
"We have noticed
an unusual pattern, especially in the vehicle theft squad. There
is either gross complicity or, more likely, a culture of impunity
regarding the death of suspects in police custody," Zhuwarara
Legal dossiers and M&G
investigations have revealed that:
a suspect in a vehicle theft case, died in Harare in police custody
in August 2011. State media reported that Matinyenya was killed
in a shoot-out after he "attempted to flee from police",
but photographs of his corpse show a bullet wound beneath the chin.
Zhuwarara said it was hard to imagine how such a wound could have
been inflicted while the suspect was running away.
In a letter copied to
police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri, the lawyers'
NGO demanded that the police inform the family of the circumstances
that led to "your officers shooting and killing Matinyenya"
and provide Matinyenya's docket. The police responded that they
had referred the matter for an inquest and were not legally obliged
to hand over dockets.
In March 2012 Emmson
Ngundu, also arrested for vehicle theft, was shot while allegedly
trying to escape from police custody. Ngundu's family said they
were denied a copy of the postmortem report.
In a high court affidavit,
Dorothy Chiwaridzo alleged that her son, Tendayi Dzigarwi (23),
was severely assaulted and died in police custody after being arrested
for stealing a motor vehicle in March last year. Chiwaridzo said
she was denied access to her son.
Later Amison Ngundu,
whose son, Emmson (see previous point), was arrested with Dzigarwi,
said that both youngsters were allegedly shot and killed by vehicle
theft officers while trying to escape. Chiwaridzo said she was not
invited to witness the postmortem.
The court ordered a second
postmortem on Dzigarwi, which was carried out by an independent
pathologist. The report by pathologist SR Naidoo found that "it
is most likely that the victim was shot through the back first with
a muzzle at a distance [of less than] 45 to 60 centimetres away
from his back; [later] he was shot at close range with the muzzle
of [the] firearm two to three centimetres away from the skin on
the right side of the neck".
Naidoo noted extensive
bleeding under the skin and in the buttock and limb muscles that
"could have been caused by blunt weapons or instruments".
His report also said Dzigarwi may have gone for at least 36 hours
without food, as there was nothing in his intestines.
The acting head of the
vehicle theft squad, Lovemore Nxumalo, said the police postmortem
report showed that the dead man had "covered a distance of
about 15 to 20 metres" before being shot.
In September 2012 the
police contacted Wellington Muchadenyika's family to say that he
had died in a car accident on the road between Harare and Mutare.
When family members asked for further information, they were told
that no docket of the alleged accident existed, nor could the police
identify where the accident had occurred.
In a letter to the police,
the deceased man's brother, Johannes Muchadenyika, said the family
knew that Wellington was arrested for allegedly stealing a cellphone
a day before his death and had been detained at the Dombotombo police
station. When relatives asked about Wellington's whereabouts, police
said he had been involved in an accident and was at the Marondera
Provincial Hospital. The hospital however said, he had never been
admitted. Johannes said Wellington's body had "several bruises
and a broken shoulder bone. The shoulder was detached and virtually
hanging by the skin". The family said it did not receive a
In Kwekwe in the Midlands
province, Blessing Matanda (29) was arrested on his way to work
in October last year and held by the Munyati police for questioning
about a break-in at a shop. On October 4, Matanda's wife visited
him at the police station, where she was told that her husband was
being interrogated by the criminal investigations department.
A day later, his brother
was informed that Matanda had committed suicide by shooting himself.
At the time,
the police said that the suspect had smuggled the firearm into the
cells. Independent pathologist Salvator Mapunda, who acts for the
lawyers' body, said that it was highly unlikely that Matanda's death
had been a suicide.
The ZLHR also faces legal
hurdles in its quest to obtain justice for the families of dead
In terms of the Inquest
Act, a private individual is not allowed to institute an investigation
into a death in police custody. It is the responsibility of the
police to report a sudden death to a magistrate, who may take steps
to ascertain the cause of death or to bring the alleged murderers
"The problem is
that the investigation of a death in police custody is the prerogative
of the police, who investigate themselves. Their actions are not
open to public scrutiny and they are not accessible to any aggrieved
person because of statutory impediments," the ZLHR's Zhuwarara
"Once in police
custody, you are at the complete mercy of the state."
Police spokesperson chief
superintendent Oliver Mandipaka's cellphone was unavailable and
assistant police commissioner Charity Charamba could not be reached
for comment by the time of going to print.
the police become the suspects
Job Akili's uncle, Eric
Chivhunga (37), died in police custody on November 21 last year.
A day before he died, Chivhunga was arrested by Mubayira police
in the rural Mashonaland West province, after a scuffle with guards
at a private farm where he was apparently caught collecting firewood.
Akili said the family
is still in the dark about why Chivhunga was arrested and how he
died. The police have not provided any information, he claimed.
are unbearable. The police beat him to death and dumped his body
at our home," Akili alleged.
"But we refused
to bury him [and] the police again took his body. We wanted details
as to who killed our relative and why."
Chivhunga was buried
after "a long struggle", Akili said.
The family was initially
denied a burial order after ordering an independent postmortem.
This indicated that Chivhunga had died of head injuries and a blood
clot in the chest.
Chivhunga's wife gave
birth to a baby boy two weeks ago in Mhondoro.
"A son is going
to grow up without a father. I'm wondering how that will be explained
to him," Akili said.
"Should we now fear
the police? What have we done to deserve this?"
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