We’re still studying HRC report on Vespers – IG

Inspector general of police Kakoma Kanganja speaks to journalist at Police Headquarters-picture by Tenson Mkhala

Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja says police are still studying the Human Rights Commission report which found that the service is responsible for Vespers Shimunzhila’s death.

Kanganja told journalists, Wednesday, that the police command would only comment on the HRC report after consultation with appropriate authorities.

“We are still studying the report and will respond at an opportune time after consultation with appropriate authorities. As you are aware matter is yet to be subjected to an inquest,” said Kanganja.

On Tuesday, HRC released an eight-paged summary statement on their findings on the students’ protest and the Zambia Police Service operation at the University of Zambia (UNZA) Great East Road Campus which took place on 4th and 5th October 2018, HRC revealed that after interviewing UNZA Security, UNZA Management, UNZA Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU), UNZA Clinic Management, University Teaching Hospital (UTH) Management as well as the Zambia Police Service, they concluded that police officers acted in a brutal manner and caused Shimunzhila’s death.

“The Police were seen driving into UNZA Premises around midnight on 4th October 2018 and officers were seen jumping off a Green Nissan Police Vehicle and two other Land Cruisers, one of them labelled, “Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Police Station”. According to witnesses, gunshots were heard in UNZA Campus and police officers were seen throwing suspected hand held-grenades and firing tear gas canisters into students’ rooms through windows. A total of six (6) students’ rooms where tear gas canisters were fired into were gutted by fire. The HRC heard that as the fire in October Hostel 2 Room 21 was being quenched by some students, some police officers repeatedly tear gassed the students who were quenching the fire and also rescuing their colleagues that were trapped in the rooms, causing October Hostel 2 Room 3, to also catch fire,” HRC stated.

“October Hostel 2, Room 25, which was occupied by eight (8) female students, was heavily affected by flames and fumes from Room 21 which was on fire. Some of the eight (8) female students escaped by climbing down through the window while the 23-year-old Everntyn Choongo, jumped from the room, which is on the third level of the building and suffered multiple fractures, including a broken lower spine. Another student, Trudie Kalimbwe, who was the last to leave room 25 alive, suffered burns on her hands and hair before escaping through the door. Regrettably, Vespers Shimuzhila, could not escape and was found unconscious by fellow students who braved the reported continued tear gassing. She was rushed to UNZA Clinic where she was pronounced as brought in dead and her body was transferred to Levy Mwanawasa Hospital before being transferred to UTH Mortuary.”

HRC revealed that tear gas cannisters were found in all the rooms that caught fire.

HRC concluded that police officers caused Shimunzila’s death and recommended that they be given criminal charges.

“It is therefore beyond any reasonable doubt that Vespers Shimuzhila did not die from a natural cause. Further, from all the evidence submitted by a wide range of witnesses during investigations, it can be concluded that the invasion of the UNZA Campus Premises and subsequent throwing of suspected hand grenades and firing of tear gas canisters into students rooms by the Zambia Police Service, caused the death of Vespers, the injury of other students as well as the loss of, and damage to University and Students’ Property. The Commission considers the firing of tear gas canisters in students’ rooms extremely unprofessional, an act of excessive use of force which resulted into a grave violation of the right to life, destruction and loss of property and undermining the right to education of the affected students whose education materials and equipment were either lost or damaged during the police night operation,” read the statement.

“It is clear from the totality of the evidence obtained that the police acted in an extremely brutal manner depicting a combative warfare situation against unarmed students who at that time no longer posed any real danger or violence to the police officers or to any other member of the public or property…Therefore, appropriate criminal charges should be preferred against all the police officers (including the senior police officers who were in-charge of the operation) for the ensuing loss of life, body injuries to several students and damage to property.”

HRC also advised Shimunzhila’s family to sue the state and secure appropriate compensation for loss of life.

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