Thirty-three-year-old Justine Wamunyima was a loving father, a devoted husband, a family man, and a hardworking man. On 30th December 2021, he was arrested by the police following a minor traffic infraction and taken into custody. Tragically, Justine never made it out of that police station alive. His death has left his family and community in shock and mourning, and has raised serious questions about the treatment of suspects in police custody.
On the morning of Tuesday, the 30th of November 2021, Justine, being a graduate from Zambia Institute of Chartered Accountants and a man with no prior criminal record, was driving along Lumumba Road when he hit into a man pushing a wheelbarrow. Upon seeing that the man was injured, Justine understood that the police were supposed to give him a medical report so that he could take the injured man for treatment at a hospital and thereafter report himself to the police. He rightfully offered to drive the man to the police station in order to begin the aforementioned process. However, upon arriving at the police station, the Police instead arrested Justine, put him in custody and refused to grant him bail until they saw the actual insurance certificate for the vehicle that he was driving at the time of the accident. Naturally Justine was not inclined to be detained in police cells but nevertheless, he complied with what the police wanted.
On 1st December 2021, his father was informed of his son’s arrest and attempted to secure the insurance certificate but was unable to do so. On 2nd December 2021, his parents attempted to take food to their son but were not granted access to him and were not told why. They eventually managed to obtain the car insurance certificate around 17:00 hours that day. They then went back to Lumumba Police Station but were told to go back to Central Police without any explanation. According to his father Mr. Godfrey Wamunyima, “We didn’t know what was happening. We had been trying to secure our son’s release for two days and when we finally obtained the requested document, we were still not able to see our son released.” Justine’s mother Charity Wamunyima lamented, “I wasn’t even allowed to give my son [the] food that I had taken on the morning of 2nd of December 2021, even though I had been taking food previously”.
At around 17:00 hours, they went to Central Police and were informed by a police officer that one of the three people in police custody at Lumumba Police Post had collapsed and died that morning. The person who died was Justine Wamunyima. The cause of his death is still under investigation, but initial reports suggest that he died from a heart attack. In disbelief, the family immediately went to the University Teaching Hospital Mortuary to identify the body and had their worst nightmares where confirmed. “I thought I had seen everything but I hadn’t,”, the deceased’s father lamented, “There, in the unclaimed body section of the UTH mortuary, lay the lifeless body of my son.”
Justine’s death left his family and community in shock and mourning. His wife and children are struggling to come to terms with the loss of a beloved husband and father. They are also questioning the actions of the police and the circumstances of Justine’s death.
Justine’s death has also raised serious questions about the treatment of suspects in police custody. Human rights organizations have long been concerned about the use of excessive force and the mistreatment of suspects by the police in Zambia.
Justine’s death is a tragic loss for his family and community. He was taken from his loved ones far too soon. His death highlights the urgent need for reform and accountability in the police service, to ensure that suspects are treated with dignity and respect and that no other family has to suffer the same fate as Justine’s. His death is a reminder that behind every statistic, there is a human being with a family and loved ones, who will be forever affected by such a loss. The story of Justine Wamunyima should serve as a call to action for all to advocate for comprehensive police reform.
Chapter One Foundation is a civil society organization that promotes and protects human rights, constitutionalism, the rule of law and social justice in Zambia. Please follow us on Facebook under the page ‘Chapter One Foundation’ and on Twitter and Instagram @CofZambia. You may also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org