TWENTY-FOUR members of the Johanne Masowe weChishanu sect arrested last Sunday on allegations of being part of a group involved in violent skirmishes with the police in Budiriro, Harare, alleged at the Harare Magistrates’ Court during their initial appearance on Tuesday that they had been tortured and detained by the police for over two days without food before being brought to court.
These are serious allegations and the magistrate rightly demanded that these be investigated thoroughly to establish the truth, which could have a bearing on the admissibility of the evidence so allegedly extracted by force, or guilt of the suspects. Outside expertise — such as that of independent doctors and investigators — is needed because in all probability the police cannot be expected to investigate themselves and find themselves guilty, as they are an interested party and would be inclined to exonerate their own.
The whole process has to be seen to be credible and fair, not a cover-up. That is the first vital step.
In this regard, it’s neither here nor there whether the Johanne Masowe weChishanu members are fanatics or not. It’s neither here nor there that Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe president Johannes Ndanga greatly inflamed the situation through his amateurish, blunderous uncalled-for dressing-down of the restive Vapostori.
Or that the police, despite being trained in crowd control and anti-riot tactics, should have restrained Ndanga instead of being seen as serving a common purpose with him, becoming — in the eyes of the incensed sect members — guilty by association. Or that somebody higher up in the police chain of command bungled big time in carrying out the whole operation.
What is at issue is the treatment or mistreatment of the suspects at the hands of the police as individuals with rights enshrined in the Constitution. Indeed, suspects lose some rights — such as freedom — after arrest, but certainly not all. They still retain rights to fair treatment as freedom from torture and freedom from hunger are enshrined in the supreme law of the land.
We are not talking about the Vapostoris’ errors of commission or omission — which are many and provable — but the role of the police in being entrusted with suspects which states there should be fair treatment without any discrimination on any grounds. There is no doubt that criminality was committed. This was graphically captured on camera and faces can be clearly identified and many of the culprits are as good as convicted and jailed.
We also know or cannot overlook that the police are hurt and angry, and this is natural because they are human like everybody else.
But restraint is still called for because vigilantism — whether on the streets of Budiriro as seen this week with a police officer leading a Zanu PF mob to destroy artefacts at the sect’s shrine, or with the alleged police torture of suspects — can never be acceptable in a State with the constitutionally-mandated institutions to deal with law and order. Taking the law into your own hands is a serious crime in itself.
Those police members inclined to resort to torture and other barbaric methods must be reminded of this if they have somehow forgotten how they should — no, must — conduct themselves. If not, it’s the duty of the courts to send the sternest right signals that this is not only intolerable, but severely punishable.
Only that message will do.