Mystery Shrouds Cell Death

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue

Windhoek

One year and three months after a prisoner brutally died allegedly at the hands of police officers at the Okakarara Police Station, the perpetrators are no closer to facing justice.

Okakarara is abuzz with questions about why police officers –
allegedly involved in beating up a prisoner to death – remain in their positions seemingly immune from prosecution.

Festus Linus Muhimba died on May 27, 2006 after he and other prisoners at Okakarara Police Station were allegedly viciously assaulted by a group of drunken police officers.

Police spokesperson, Chief Inspector Angula Amulungu, yesterday, however, said they received a different report from second-in-charge at Okakarara Police Station, Sergeant Daniel van Wyk.

According to Amulungu, Van Wyk reported that at around 21h00 on May 27, 2006, Muhimba died after falling from the cell roof at the police station.

Van Wyk reported that Muhimba and another prisoner, John Muhenye, climbed through the cell roof in an attempt to escape custody.

This allegedly led to Muhimba sustaining fatal injuries when he fell from the roof.

The two were in custody facing charges of stock theft and assault.
Following the alleged attempt to escape from lawful custody, a court sentenced Muhenye to one year in prison – served at Omaruru Prison.

For over a year, Muhenye has waged a tireless campaign from Omaruru Prison disputing the Okakarara police’s version of the events.

The campaign has yielded limited results but Muhenye feels that neither he, nor the late Muhimba – who paid the ultimate price – have received justice.

The coroner’s investigation carried out on Muhimba at the State Mortuary in Windhoek four days after his death lists a number of serious injuries.

They include scalp bruises, skull fractures, subdural haemorrhage, abrasions on the left cheek and face.

In addition, the coroner found abrasions on the chest, on the back, on both kneecaps and the right wrist.

Whether these injuries are consistent with a fall from the cell roof, only an inquest court can determine.

Muhenye alleges that the authorities threw him into Omaruru jail without him ever receiving medical treatment for the two broken ribs he suffered in the alleged assault by police officers.

He has now returned to the Okakarara holding cells awaiting trial on the stock theft and assault charges.

An independent source in Okakarara says police are still denying him medical treatment, as well as visits from family or friends.

The same source says it appears that an attempt at a prison break did take place on the night in question, but no one knows whether or not it involved Muhimba and Muhenye.

Amulungu, however, says Okakarara police informed him that Muhenye himself refuses to see anyone, which sounds somewhat implausible.

It is also not clear whether police ever gave him the opportunity to apply for bail, or they are simply keeping him incommunicado.

Amulungu could not shed light on this aspect, other than to say Muhenye is still waiting for a response to his application for Legal Aid.

Muhenye alleges the police officers were on a drinking spree in the town, when they returned and started viciously kicking and beating up prisoners with rubber batons.

In the morning, the prisoners raised an alarm when they discovered Muhimba’s lifeless body.

The Office of the Ombudsman took up Muhenye’s case with the Otjiwarongo Police Complaints and Discipline Unit.

The Ombudsman’s investigating officer sent Muhenye a letter dated March 28, 2007 stating that the police appointed Detective-Sergeant Kashuupulwa as investigating officer in the case.

Police registered both the alleged assault and murder under case number CR No. 33/08/06.

The investigator informed Muhenye the police obtained all outstanding statements, completed the investigation and would forward the docket to the Prosecutor-General for decision.

Five months later, when approached for comment yesterday, Prosecutor-General Olivia Martha Imalwa categorically stated the police had not forwarded the docket to her office.

“Since there is no further investigation needed from this office, we closed our file on the matter,” the letter from the Ombudsman’s investigator surprisingly ends.

Ombudsman John Walters was disappointed when he heard the contents of the letter yesterday.

“We should have said we will follow up the matter until the Prosecutor-General makes a decision. If we are still not satisfied after the PG’s decision, we might then advise the complainant to pursue a civil claim.”

Walters, however, stressed that in Namibia, the Office of the Ombudsman only plays a watchdog role.

Only the police are authorised to investigate criminal cases, after which the Prosecutor-General decides whether or not to prosecute.

Unlike the Independent Complaints Commission in South Africa, the Namibian Ombudsman cannot independently investigate criminal cases.

Walters said that only when the police tried to suppress evidence, failed to do their job or did not do their job properly could the Ombudsman step in.

This happened not so long ago in a Tsumeb rape case involving a police officer where the Ombudsman had to intervene.

“We cannot close the matter before we have even confirmed the docket is with the Prosecutor-General.

“I don’t want to generalise about the police, but there may be unscrupulous members who want to suppress evidence,” he said.

Walters gave the assurance that either he, or his deputy, would personally attend to the case after returning from a two-week trip to the regions.

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