AN investigation by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) has revealed that Frank Mugala, a grade 8 pupil, was shot dead by a police officer during an operation in February.
And the Commission says it has observed with a deep sense of regret a growing, systemic or pattern of cases of extra-judicial killings of individuals by the Zambia Police Service, without state remedial measures, through the so called stray bullets.
Meanwhile, the Commission has recommended that the State compensates Frank Mugala’s family.
In a statement, Tuesday, HRC chairperson Mudford Mwandenga stated that Mugala was killed by a bullet when the police were trying to disperse residents who were protesting after a rumour went round that individuals suspected of being involved in ritual killings through gassing unsuspecting victims with a paralysing chemical were hiding at the school.
“The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has completed its independent investigations into the death of Frank Mugala, a grade 8 pupil at Chazanga Basic School who was killed during the Zambia Police Service operation on 13th February, 2020. The 14 year old boy was killed by a bullet when the police were trying to disperse residents who were protesting after a rumour went round that individuals suspected of being involved in ritual killings through gassing unsuspecting victims with a paralysing chemical were hiding at the school,” read the statement.
“The Commission has submitted the detailed investigations report to the parties involved, being the family of the deceased and the Zambia Police Service in line with its legislative mandate under the Human Rights Commission Act, Chapter 48 of the Laws of Zambia. It was true that there was a public disturbance in Kabanana Township, including at Chazanga Basic School on the material day Frank met his tragic death. The Commission learnt that on the fateful day, Frank Mugala (deceased), a 14 year old grade eight (8) pupil at Chazanga Basic School was among the learners that had reported for lessons in the afternoon. The deceased belonged to Grade 8 C, one of the classes that reported for their lessons in the afternoons,”
It explained that there was confusion when parents went at the said school to pick up their children after rumor went round that the ritual gassers were at the school which left pupils agitated.
“The Commission heard that on the material day, just after the 15:40 hours’ break, as the pupils were settling down for the next lesson, some parents stormed the classrooms to pick up their children. When asked by the teachers why they were picking up their children, the parents stated that they feared for their children’s safety because they had information that a mob of people in the area was going round schools damaging school infrastructure, under the belief that schools were hiding “ritual gassers.” Some pupils over heard the parents talking about the gassers, who got agitated. The reports about the alleged gassers was worsened by the earlier reports in the day that a school in Northmead had been gassed. As more and more parents entered the school gates, there was confusion among the learners,” the report read.
“Efforts to calm them down could not succeed. This created anxiety among both the teachers and the learners. Most of the pupils rushed out of the school premises. It is true that Frank was shot dead by the Zambia Police Service. It was only after 17:00 hours that police on patrol vehicles started patrolling the streets of Kabanana and Chazanga Townships in an attempt to stop the protesting mob. It was reported that the protestors had earlier been to other schools, including Ngwerere School where they found no one in the school as all the pupils had been released.”
The Commission stated that according to witnesses, they could hear sporadic gunshots in various sections of the compound.
“According to witnesses, the police did not enter Chazanga Basic School premises but went past the school heading eastward. The witnesses interviewed said they could hear sporadic gun shots in various sections of the compound, as the police tried to prevent the protesters from going to schools in search of the alleged gassers. No witness testified having heard about, seeing or experiencing the use of tear smoke (tear gas), water cannons, or rubber bullets by the police. Furthermore, no witness testified that they heard the police announce or advise the protesters to disperse. All they could see were uncompromising armed police officers on patrol vehicles driving up and down the streets, without saying anything,” it stated.
“Around 17:00hrs, the same time the Police were seen arriving in the area, a body of a boy was found lying, at about 150 to 200 meters opposite the gate of Chazanga Basic School. It was initially suspected that he was from High Land School. However, from the school badge and the note books from his school bag, they were able to identify him as Frank Mugala, grade 8 C of Chazanga Basic School. Some witnesses near the scene where Frank was shot dead said the police were shooting indiscriminately in the township and showed the Commission some mobile phone booths and houses with bullet holes. It was alleged that the deceased was shot by one of the bullets which went through a mobile phone booth.”
The Commission stated that a post mortem that was conducted confirmed that he died from a gunshot which ripped through his body.
“A post mortem examination was conducted on the body of the late Frank Mugala by a State Pathologist on 17th February, 2020 and confirmed that he died from a gunshot to the back, which ripped through his body and exited at the right side of the neck,” the report read.
“Autopsy revealed a boy with an entry gunshot wound to the back and an exit wound at the right side of the neck. On the basis of the history and autopsy findings, multiple medicolegally relevant issues are raised by the post-mortem examination including: The cause of death is gunshot to back; the mechanism of death is physical disruption of the cervical spine; the manner of death is homicide. The gunshot wound is atypical suggestive of a ricochet bullet, the gunshot was incapacitation immediately.”
The Commission stated that Mugala was not a threat to anyone or any property at the time he was shot dead.
“In this case, Frank was killed by one of the Zambia Police Officers who were deployed to attend to the reported protest in Kabanana area in Lusaka. The deceased juvenile was from school during the material time of meeting his death and was not part of any protesting group. From scientific examination of his body after his death, he was shot from the back, a clear indication that he was not advancing towards the police. Hence, he was not in any way a threat to anyone or any property at the time he was shot dead,” the report read.
“The use of live ammunition in a high-density township, to scare away unarmed protestors constituted an act of recklessness, negligent and unprofessionalism by the police. It is the Commission’s well considered opinion that the shooting to death of the juvenile in question cannot be reasonably justified and does not fall within the legally permissible circumstances under which the deprivation of life may not be deemed as a violation of the right to life. Having reviewed the totality of the evidence, it is the firm and fair finding of the Commission that Frank Mugala was brutally shot dead by a state agent in the name of a police officer in gross deprivation of his right to life. The Commission wishes to take this opportunity to make a general comment. The Commission has observed with a deep sense of regret a growing, systemic or pattern of cases of extra-judicial killings of individuals by the Zambia Police Service, without state remedial measures, through the so called stray bullets. This is extremely sad. It down plays the sanctity of life and give an impression that law enforcement officers can take away one’s life without being sanctioned.”
The Commission recommended that the State should compensate the deceased’s family for the loss of life occasioned by the reckless conduct of its agents.
“While the state authorities and the police command are on record that it does note please them to see officers being indicted or punished for acts arising out of their official duty, the Commission calls for justice to be done by among other measures, ensuring that perpetrators of human rights violations are punished in accordance with the law. Whims or feelings of individuals should not be allowed to obstruct the course of justice and create a culture of impunity in violating human rights by state agents. To this end, the Police command must own up and take administrative or any other action against the officer/s involved in order to end impunity. That in the event that the Police Command does not take any action, an inquest should be held in line with the provisions of Sections 4 and 28 (1) (c) of the Inquests Act, Chapter 36 of the Laws of Zambia in order to establish the identity of the officer responsible for the shooting to death of Frank Mugala to allow for appropriate criminal charges,” stated Mwandenga.
“Further, the police command has an obligation to avail suspected police officers in the commission of crime so that they are subjected to the due process of the law in cases where victims of the deceased decide to take the matter before the courts of law and pursue criminal charges. The State should compensate the deceased’s family for the loss of life occasioned by the reckless conduct of its agents (Zambia Police Officers). In the event that such compensation is not made within a reasonable time, the family of the late Frank Mugala should consider instituting civil proceedings against the State.”