A court in Iringa today sentenced police officer Pacifius Simon to 15 years imprisonment for the manslaughter of journalist Daud Mwangosi in September 2012. In one sense, this brings the case to a close. But it is a very unsatisfactory ending.
The court decided that there was not enough evidence to reach a guilty verdict for the crime of murder, so opted for the lesser offence of manslaughter (unintentional killing). In reaching this decision, the judge explained that the prosecution had not brought several key witnesses to the stand, including the then Regional Police Commander Michael Kamuhanda, and other journalists and photographers who were at the scene.
Why did the prosecution not present a stronger case?
There were a lot of journalists present at the time of the killing, and a lot of photographs were taken. Could it be that prosecutors felt they were prosecuting one of their own – a police officer – and so held back from using this rich seam of evidence?
How did the court arrive at its verdict of manslaughter?
Even allowing for the weak prosecution case, article 200(b) of the penal code states that where there is no deliberate intention to kill somebody, if the killer had “knowledge that the act causing death will probably cause death or grievous harm”, it counts as murder. Surely an FFU officer knows that firing a tear gas gun into somebody’s torso at point blank range is likely to cause at least “grievous harm”.
Pacifius Simon pulled the trigger, according to the verdict of the court, and indeed by his own initial admission. But if we take a step back to look at the bigger picture, there are many other questions to be asked about the actions of the police that day, and since.
Why was there such a heavy police presence for such a small event?
The Field Force Unit (FFU), of which Mr Simon was a serving officer, is Tanzania’s riot police unit. He and others were brought in from outside the region to bolster the police presence, and top-level police officers for Iringa region were also present. Was all this really necessary for the opening of a village-level office of the opposition party, Chadema?
Why was a minor disagreement allowed to escalate so quickly out of control?
Mwangosi had approached the police in his capacity as Iringa Press Club Chairman, to ask why the police had arrested another press photographer. Within minutes, Mwangosi had been shot through the stomach with a tear-gas gun. The photographic evidence – see above – is clear that the police reaction was very heavy-handed. Six uniformed officers, plus another man waving a pistol, are there in the picture, surrounding and apparently beating Mwangosi just before the fatal shot. The Regional Police Commander apparently watched from a nearby vehicle, and did not intervene. It is easy to understand why many believe the police set out deliberately to cause chaos that day.
Why were none of the other officers involved in the case also charged?
Look again at that photo, and remember that the man they are attacking is an unarmed journalist. It is hard to believe that none of the other officers committed any criminal offences. Were they not accomplices or accessories to murder or manslaughter? Did none of them even commit assault?
Pacifius Simon has been held to account, albeit for a lesser offence, but the suspicion remains that the whole blame for what happened has been thrust onto his shoulders, allowing others to escape justice. Most particularly, senior officers in the police have avoided any meaningful scrutiny of and accountability for their decisions and actions that day in Nyololo. Who was giving orders, and what orders did they give?
The case has concluded, but it leaves a very bitter taste.