Chilling police brutality on kids

EMACULATA Chidovi from Katanga high density suburb in Norton, mother to a 10-year-old boy who was allegedly assaulted by Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) after being accused together with two other boys of stealing a Nokia C3 cellphone, weeps as she narrates the ordeal her son went through on the night of September 15.

Wongai Zhangazha

Overwhelmed by emotions, Chidovi sobs uncontrollably as she recounts the harrowing experience of her son.

She says she was devastated by the extent of injuries inflicted on her son at a police base, after having been taken away by two police officers in uniform from her home.

As a result of the torture, Chidovi’s son is left with scars which a government doctor described as permanent.

In another incident, an 11-year-old boy from Chitungwiza was assaulted by the police for allegedly stealing a bicycle.

The two cases are just but some of the many in a series of incidents which highlight the brutality associated with ZRP. Besides the ZRP allowing itself to be used to harass opposition activists and politicians, many cases of police brutality have come to the fore regarding the manner with which they treat suspects.

There have been numerous reports of suspects dying in police cells after being tortured ostensibly to extract a confession.

In most cases there has been no justice for victims but in some cases like the 2011 incident where a suspect, Samson Ncube, was brutally tortured by police officers from Sauerstown Police Station in Bulawayo before dying five days after being released.

Bulawayo High Court Judge Maxwell Takuva in May sentenced Sergeant Proud Moyo (29) to an effective 15 years in jail for allegedly assaulting Ncube with a fan belt and a baton stick, resulting in his death.

This week ZRP was ordered to pay US$2 000 to a Zimbabwe Elections Support Network staffer Amon Chitando after being wrongfully arrested and detained in Bindura in 2013.

Cases of unlawful arrests and detention as well as torture are common but that police brutality is now extending to minors, as in the Chidovi case, reaching a new low.

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Chidovi said on September 15, at around 7pm, her daughter sent her 10-year-old son to buy airtime at a nearby tuck-shop. But a few minutes later the boy came back crying in the presence of two policemen in uniform identified as William Kamujariwa and Jotham Masiku.

“My daughter asked my son what had happened to him and why the police were behind him and the police started harassing him asking him where he had put the cellphone. To which he replied crying that he didn’t know anything about the cellphone,” she said. “The police then demanded that my son goes with them to the Katanga police base. My husband tried to intervene but they told him if he wanted answers he should follow them to the station. They left with my son, at night and we could not do anything about it.”

The police left the Chidovi residence in a white Toyota Ipsum driven by Muranganwa Mukono, who was the complainant. They had two other young boys aged 10 in the car.

Chidovi said instead of heading to Katanga police station, the police officers went with the children to Nyamunda Beer Hall where Mukono is alleged to have bought four quarts of beer and a ball of marijuana which he gave to the police officers.

The officers allegedly drank and smoked in the presence of the minors.

Chidovi says her son was clapped by the police officers several times as they accused him of stealing the phone. Apparently the two other minors had pointed blame fingers at him.

“My husband had gone to the police base and he waited for 30 minutes before they arrived although the base is a kilometre and half from our home. When they finally arrived my husband asked to be with our son, but they ignored his pleas and said they still wanted to interrogate the children alone,” she said.

“They never produced a statement of complaint. They just acted under the commands of Mukono. My son was beaten with a broom stick on the buttocks. He was also beaten on the head while at one time he was assaulted while handcuffed.

“He was forced to do some press ups while being supported by a chair. He was told that if he cried he would be beaten thoroughly.”

Chidovi’s son was released at around 10pm but the police continued to search for the cellphone at the family’s home without a search warrant.

A medical report done by a government medical doctor named as T Mhuka at Norton District hospital on September 17 showed that Chidovi’s son had bruising of the left side of the face and ear. The child also suffered lacerations and bruises of the buttocks.

The report stated there was a possibility of permanent injuries.

“My son is still in pain. He missed weeks of school. He can’t sit properly. He experiences headaches and convulsions which he never had and had to be admitted for two days (in hospital),” Chidovi says.

In a follow up medical report conducted on October 5, after her son had suffered convulsions, Dr Mhuka said Chidovi’s son “was suffering from severe consequences of the alleged assault” and was “receiving specialist care” at Norton hospital.

The doctor said the injuries were “fitting post assault”.

Chidovi made a complaint against the police action at Norton Urban Station under CRB number 648-52.

The Chidovis claim that the phone was later found in the complainant’s possession.

In a separate incident Christine Banda of Zengeza in Chitungwiza had her 11-year- old son assaulted last week by the police over a bicycle which was alleged to have been stolen from a bicycle repairman.

Banda said: “I saw my son playing with other children with a bicycle on the street and I warned him about using other children’s things. I warned him because of the danger of riding bicycle on the street. He listened but with 11-year-olds you can never be so sure when you don’t spend the whole day at home.”

She however said on Wednesday last week some police officers in a private car came to her house and took her son to St Mary’s police station.

“I was at work, but a woman we stay with said the police came and they said they were going to take my son to the station over a bicycle that was stolen. The woman demanded that she goes with them, representing me but the police refused and said they didn’t have space in the car and told her if she wanted she had to follow using her own means,” she said.

“Neighbours tried calling me to tell me that my son had been taken by the police, but I was so busy at work that I only checked my phone at 4pm only to see the several missed calls.

“At exactly 6:29pm while I was going home, I received a call from a police officer whose name I don’t remember. He said my son was at the station and that I should be there,” said Banda.

Wiping tears from her face, Banda said she later found out her son had been slapped on his face several times.

“His face was swollen, so were his lips. We left the station around 8pm and when we got home my son could not eat due to the bruises in his mouth,” she said before adding, “I just want to know whether there is a law that allows my son to be taken by the police in my absence. Do they have the right to beat up my son?”

A medical report done at Chitungwiza Central hospital on October 9 Doctor L Dube found Banda’s son to be suffering from “soft tissue injury lower right mandible and TMJ tender slightly of left side” as a result of receiving multiple claps and fists.

Prominent human rights lawyer Kennedy Masiye from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights who is representing both minors said on Tuesday that the police were unprofessional.

Masiye said: “If children aged 10 and 11 are accused of such a crime there should be involvement of the guardian. However in both cases parents were not involved. On the boy from Norton the police even disregarded the father’s presence. This gives a sense of shock. Children are protected by the law.

“Of all the cases I have witnessed I have never witnessed such an extent of punitive action by the police. What makes this case more disgusting is that these two minors were never charged with any offence. As human right lawyers we are seriously monitoring this case and demanding compensation from police and the dismissal of police officers involved,” he said.

Police spokesperson Charity Charamba could not be reached for comment.

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