Under-fire police juniors blame superiors for ordering civilian abuses

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By Leopold Munhende

POLICE officers within the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s rank and file have accused their commanders of giving them orders which later get them into trouble when they backfire.

They were speaking to after a video showing one Constable Makumire being assisted to bash a suspect in handcuffs by a soldier recently went viral on social media.

The video, first shown on British SkyNews channel, came out as the country’s security commanders were trying to mitigate the damages which came by way of global condemnation following a brutal clampdown on civilians during violent January protests by citizens angered by deepening poverty in the country.

Junior police offers said most of the acts that they were later blamed for would have been a result of orders from their superiors.

“The challenge is that operational orders are not given by junior men,” said one police officer on condition of anonymity.

“We act on orders from our superiors who are very clear as to how to handle civilians in demonstrations and usually we are ordered to use force.

“We are trained to follow orders without question, failure of which you are charged with insubordination or undermining authority.

“If they are going to arrest me for following an order, is it not logical that they arrest the originator of that order who put the lives of innocent civilians at risk. Our seniors should also face the music.”

Another police officer said they often find themselves partnered with overzealous members of the army who have no restraint when brutalising civilians in cases where simple arrests would suffice.

“Police morale is low because some of the orders expose you to arrest and imagine you will be working with a soldier who is equally stubborn in terms of carrying out orders. We end up letting them do the work instead,” he said.

He however said some of his colleagues within the police find fun in the abuses.

While the security forces have tried to shield their members from any dire consequences of last month’s brutal clampdown on those accused of taking part in violent anti-government skirmishes, there have been instances where some have been charged in their individual capacity.

Reached for comment, police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba requested questions submitted via phone text but failed to respond by the time of publishing this story.

Home Affairs Minister Cain Mathema was not picking up calls while his permanent secretary Melusi Matshiya referred all questions to the minister.

“I cannot comment on that. I think it will be best you either wait until the Minister is in a position to answer and respond to those questions or call the (police) Commissioner General himself,” said Matshiya.

Last year, High Court judge Nicholas Mathonsi ordered police and the Home Affairs ministry to pay more than $13,000 in damages to 64-year-old Lillian Chinyerere for the pain she suffered when she was savagely attacked by riot police during anti-government demonstrations 2016.