The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has recommended that administrative action be taken against police officers who used excessive force and unlawfully detained ZAF officer, Flight Sergeant Mark Nchimunya Choongwa, who died in their custody last month.
In a statement, HRC Chairperson Mudford Mwandenga said the Commission got different versions of the story of how the ZAF officer died.
Mwandenga also recommended the opening of an inquest into the matter, saying it would help identify who should be charged with his murder.
“The investigations by the Commission revealed different versions by different witnesses that were interviewed on how Flight Sergeant Mark Nchimunya Choongwa met his death at Woodlands Police Station. Given the circumstances under which the death occurred and the various versions by different witnesses that were interviewed, the Commission recommends the following: (i) Police to give Notice of Mark’s Nchimunya Choongwa’s death to a Coroner to hold an Inquest as provided by the Inquests Act 36 of the Laws of Zambia; which states that (a) a prisoner; or (b)a person in the custody of a police officer or detained in custody under a detention order; dies from any cause whatsoever, it shall be the duty of the prison officer having charge of such prisoner or the police officer or other person having charge of such person, as the case may be, to give notice of the death of such prisoner or person to a coroner within whose jurisdiction such death occurred and that coroner shall hold an inquest,” Mwandenga said.
Mwandenga disclosed that evidence adduced by all witnesses clearly showed that the decision to detain the deceased was arbitrary.
“There is therefore need for the police command to take action against excessive use of force and pre-trial detention. Pre-trial detention ought to be used only in deserving cases where a person is a flight risk. Under the circumstances of this case, there was no evidence to show or suggest that the deceased was a flight risk. In the worst case scenario, the police should have perhaps exercised their powers to impound the deceased’s motor vehicle for further traffic offence related procedures later in the morning or another day rather than resorting to use of excessive force and detaining him,” he said.
“The Commission found that the claim that the late flight Choongwa was detained, among other offences, for assaulting a Police Officer to be unconvincing as no witness testified ever seeing any physical engagement between the deceased and the officer who claimed that he was assaulted. To the contrary, the witnesses recalled that each time the named police officer tried to get hold of the deceased, Mark repeatedly told the officer, ‘don’t touch me, don’t touch me’ while keeping a distance away from the officer.”
Mwandenga also revealed that the commission would send written reports of its findings to the parties concerned.
“The appropriate authority shall, within thirty (30) days from the date of such recommendation make a report to the Commission, on any action taken by such authority to redress any human rights violation. Any person who contravenes the provisions of subsection (2) shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding ten thousand penalty units, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both,” said Mwandenga.
On March 25, police charged four inmates with Sergeant Nchimunya’s murder.