Following media and the Zambia Police Service information that some police officers were battling for their lives in St. Francis Hospital in Katete District after being brutally attacked by some villagers in Chieftainess Kawaza’s area in Katete District in Eastern Province on 19th November 2022, the Commission immediately dispatched its Investigations Officers to the area.
The Commission wishes to confirm that 17 Police Officers were brutally attacked by the villagers who reportedly took turns on repeatedly assaulting the officers using assorted objects such as stones and sticks. The Commission was informed by medical officers that some officers suffered broken limbs such as legs and arms while others had broken noses and teeth, deep cuts on the heads while others only had soft tissue injuries and multiple bruises. The combined team of security officers which included the Zambia National Service, and other community leaders and individuals who rushed to the crime scene to take the injured officers to the hospital found some of the victims lying unconscious while others were profusely bleeding and agonizing with excruciating pain as they lay on the ground.
A total of nine (9) officers were initially admitted to St. Francis Mission Hospital. Three (3) of the victims were critically injured and were admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). However, as of 20th November 2022, only two officers were still admitted, one who suffered a broken nose was under observation while one who suffered a deep cut on the head was still in the ICU.
The Commission wishes to strongly condemn the criminal and barbaric conduct of the villagers on the Law Enforcement Officers. Further, the Commission calls for thorough investigations to ensure that the culprits are properly identified and subjected to the due process of the law.
It is unacceptable for anyone to take the law unto their own hands as the villagers did, no matter how annoyed or strongly one feels about any matter or situation. Police Officers have a daunting constitutional obligation of daily maintaining law and order and protecting human rights such as the right to life, property and public security or safety and they deserve everyone’s support and respect as they carry out their national duties, usually under extremely difficult circumstances.
Further, the Commission wishes to commend the police officers for their exceptional professionalism and restraint from using live ammunition on their assailants, even in the face of imminent danger on their lives. The Commission was informed that the villagers defied warning shots and continued advancing violently until the officers reportedly ran out of ammunition. As a result, they were helpless, exposed and vulnerable to pouncing by the large mob of angry villagers who were armed with assorted objects.
The Commission is cognizance of the high and disturbing emotions the attack on the police officers has generated and justifiably so. The Commission is also aware that the police high command and a contingency of officers have moved in Katete to deal with the unfortunate situation. However, the Commission would like to earnestly appeal to the police to continue exercising the same commendable level of professionalism exercised by the victims who refrained themselves from using excessive force, which could have probably aggravated the situation and resulted into mass killings of villagers and some officers alike.
As the police command pursuing the perpetrators, the Commission is also urging them to consider facilitating the compensation of the injured officers and continue rendering support to them beyond just medical care to mitigate the adverse impact of the injuries on their general wellbeing and that of their families.
The background of the conflict is that the 17 police officers had gone to maintain law and order in Joel and Chinzu villages, in Chieftainess Kawaza’s area where irate villagers had destroyed properties and houses belonging to two individuals who were accused of bewitching someone. The villagers had also destroyed Headman Chizu’s house, accusing him of sympathizing with the suspected witches.
The Villagers were annoyed that the two accused persons were released by the police due to lack of evidence linking them to the “murder” of the deceased. The police had made efforts to explain to the villagers through the 19 headmen before releasing the suspects and had also advised the accused to settle elsewhere upon being released for their own safety. However, word went round the village that they had been released, hence the villagers destroying their properties and that of the head man.
The 17 police officers who had gone to maintain law and order in Joel and Chinzu villages, were ambushed by villagers who apparently misconstrued their presence and intervention as siding with the “murder” suspects who they felt were let “scot free” by the police.
As the police started retreating from Joel village, they found the road ahead was blocked with logs and metal items. The villagers who were hiding in the bush emerged and started throwing stones and all sorts of objects at the police as they tried to navigate the barricade.
The police further found that the villagers had barricaded the road leading to Katete town at different points preventing them from leaving the area using the route they came through.
A rear tyre of the police Toyota Land Cruiser Vehicle got punctured in the process as police officers tried to find their way out through the bush. In trying to escape from the mob, the police meandered in the bush, but came to a dead end when they reached a stream and the vehicle they were using failed to cross.
At that point, more people from surrounding villages had mobilized and attacked the officers, hitting them repeatedly with various dangerous objects while reportedly threatening to kill them.
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION