ZAMBIA: Police assault peace researchers

Two Zambian academics were allegedly nearly beaten to death by police while on a research trip in one of the country's remote districts, forcing them to abandon their project midstream.

Copperbelt University lecturers Edward Nkonde and Ephraim Munshimfwa were hospitalised following the assaults in which a colleague, Progress Chongo, was lucky to escape unharmed.

They were on a field trip to Kawanbwa in Luapula province, where they had also intended to visit Kala Refugee Camp for data collection for research being conducted under the aegis of the Dag Hammarskjöld Chair for Peace, Human Rights and Conflict, based in Kitwe.

The incident happened in March this year, but Nkonde issued a statement only two weeks ago following absence from work and hospitalisation at Wusakile Hospital following the assaults.

In the statement, he said the beatings occurred after police mistook the academics for thieves who had raided the remote area during their research trip.

"After 23.30 hours, I heard a knock at my door and people shouting 'open! police!' I was sure they were knocking at a wrong door and so I asked them whether they were at the right door or not. But they continued to bang on my door. I then decided to open," Nkonde said.

Immediately three policemen - two in plain clothes and one in police uniform - entered the room and started searching it before looting his money and ordering him outside.

The lecturer said when his colleague, Ephraim Munshimfwa, decided to run and called for help, he fell and one of the policemen aimed a gun at him. But the policeman refrained from pulling the trigger when the lecturer grabbed another policeman to use as a human shield.

A crowd gathered, Nkonde claimed in his statement, and joined in the assault after the police told them that the lecturers were thieves. "I was then hit with a brick and I fell down and all the people descended on us. In the meantime, a police officer started hitting me with a gun which caused a deep cut on my leg."

Nkonde said the lecturers were taken to a police station where they were detained overnight, only to be told the next day that the police had mistaken them for thieves following a tip they had received on the whereabouts of a group of criminals who had earlier stolen money in the area. The academics were then accused of having caused "confusion" and made to apologise under duress before being told to sign in a book that they had been severely warned.

"What effect did the encounter have? Emotionally and psychologically I became traumatised to a point where any footsteps towards my room make me become frightened. Any knock at the door makes my heart leap with terrible fear," Nkonde wrote.

The lecturer did not say whether they were pressing charges against the law enforcement agents, but he indicated that they intend to forge ahead with the research.

A Zambian female student is currently suing the police after they allegedly brutalised her during student protests earlier this year. Last year police shot and injured two students after firing live ammunition at rioting University of Zambia students.