Court awards damages to Lusaka woman falsely accused of torching City Market


THE Lusaka High Court judge has awarded compensatory damages to a marketeer who sued the State for false imprisonment after she was arrested on accusations that she torched City Market in 2017. Emeldah Phiri had sued the Attorney General and was claiming exemplary and aggravated damages for false imprisonment. Phiri stated that on July 4, 2017, she was wrongly arrested on suspicion that she was a UPND member who set the market on fire. According to Phiri, she was detained in police cells without any probable cause or any reason and in inhumane conditions.

Phiri demanded that interest be paid on all sums that would be found due and any other relief that the court might deem fit. She had stated that she was accused of burning the market and was initially detained at Lusaka City Market police post where she was allegedly tortured. Thereafter, Phiri claimed she was bundled into a police motor vehicle with heavy armed police officers and driven to her house in Garden township where a search was conducted without a warrant, on the suspicion that she had removed her goods from the market before setting it ablaze.

“Despite not recovering anything from my house, the relentless police officers took me to police headquarters where I was detained from 12:00 hours to 23:00 hours before being transferred to Kabwata Police Station where I was detained for eight days,” Phiri explained.

She said she was accused of burning the market when there was no evidence and she did not eat for two days. Phiri claimed that she was denied her liberty from July 4 to 12, 2017 and suffered loss and damage as a result. But the Attorney General denied Phiri’s claims, saying the State had a probable and reasonable suspicion to suspect that Phiri had committed the offence. Trial in the matter commenced on February 6, 2019 and the State called two witnesses to aid their case. Delivering judgment, judge Mapani Kawimbe found the State liable.

Judge Kawimbe said having established that Phiri was falsely imprisoned and kept in inhumane conditions, she was entitled to compensatory damages which included an element of aggravated and exemplary damages. She said the police officers’ conduct of searching Phiri’s house without a warrant and keeping her in custody without indicting her and placing her in filthy cells swarmed with flies prompted the award.

Judge Kawimbe awarded Phiri compensatory damages which included aggravated and exemplary damages with interest from the date of the action until final payment to be assessed by the deputy registrar of the High Court.

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