THE Zambia Civic Education Association says it has received the news of the acquittal of the four Twin Palm Secondary School pupils accused of killing their fellow pupil from Kabulonga Boys Secondary School due to insufficient evidence with utter disbelief.
“What is this lack of sufficient evidence attributed to? Is it careless investigations by the police? How can there be lack of sufficient evidence when the dead body and the grave of Ryan Phiri are there? Was the blunt impact trauma due to assault as testified by the arresting police officer during trial self-inflicted? What happens now?” ZCEA executive director Judith Mulenga asked. “Will the investigation continue so as sufficient evidence is collected enough to bring culprits to book? What about closure by Ryan’s family? Isn’t justice served supposed to help in such matters?”
Mulenga said juvenile justice was not about juvenile offenders going scot free especially when they commit a felony.
She said granted the minimum age for criminal responsibility was currently ridiculously low at eight years in Zambia but the juveniles who assaulted Ryan to death were teenagers, pre-adults, that beat another teenager to death.
“They didn’t just push him during an argument and he fell on something that killed him but they had such sufficient violent streaks in them to sustain violent attacks on other human beings without any compunction, go home, have supper, sleep and next day report to school as if nothing had happened?” she said.
Mulenga said though juvenile justice principles demand for deprivation of liberty being the last resort, dealing with juveniles in conflict with the law away from the judicial proceedings and the best interest of the juveniles alleged, accused of or recognised as having infringed the penal law, “these principles weigh not only the age and maturity of the juveniles but also the seriousness of the alleged crime”.
She said further juvenile justice demands that the measures applied should reinforce the child’s respect for human rights and freedoms of others.
“Has this been done? The measures should also take into account the child’s age and promotes the child’s rehabilitation and its re-intergration into society assuming a constructive role in society. Can this be guaranteed by any measure? Other rights for juvenile offenders being no imposition of the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole and other usual procedural rights that are supposed to be enjoyed by all persons in conflict with the law am sure would have been provided even with a finding of guilt,” she said. “Alas with no rehabilitation intervention programmes for Ryan Phiri’s assailants the chances of them individually or in the company of others inflicting similar heinous acts on other human beings probably when they are older are quite high. Therefore, the parents or guardians of the released juveniles should not celebrate but place their offspring on serious psychosocial counselling programmes.”
Mulenga said the department of social welfare under the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services should still place the four juveniles on some rehabilitation programme and monitoring them for a period of time.
“Don’t get me wrong. I am not in any way implying that the juveniles involved are now hardened criminals but such case management and monitoring should not end with this acquittal. For the parents and family of Ryan, demand for justice for him until it is served. He should not become a statistic of random deaths like Frank Mugala in a nation of laws and supposedly functioning institutions,” said Mulenga. “For our Zambian society there’s need to put in place a robust prevention of juvenile delinquency especially child peer on peer violence.”
The Lusaka High Court on Tuesday, acquitted four former pupils of Twin Palm Secondary School accused of killing Ryan.
This is in a matter where Elvis Nsokolo, a former head boy at Twin Palm, was jointly charged with three juveniles aged between 16 and 18 for the alleged murder of Ryan Phiri on December 4, 2020 during a fight.
Justice Sharon Newa who freed Nsokolo and the three juveniles due to lack of evidence said the death of Ryan which resulted from lawlessness exhibited by the pupils from both schools, is a caution light for all school authorities to be more watchful in handling pupils especially misconduct.
In her judgment justice Newa found that when Ryan’s parents reached at the hospital (UTH) evidence on record shows that he was unconscious and the time he woke up he had told them what transpired and he explained that Nsokolo was part of the mob of Twin Palm pupils that assaulted him.
She said the time Ryan was conscious is the only time he could have explained what happened and although time had passed since he was attacked, the time he gained consciousness was spontaneous because it was the only opportunity he had to tell them about his assailants.
“There was no evidence on record to show that at the time, Ryan had the time to reflect and there was a possibility that he concocted the story or he had distorted it. There is nothing to show that while Ryan said that Nsokolo was part of the mob that assaulted him there is nothing to show what the latter particularly did in assaulting the deceased,” judge Newa said.
During trial, Ryan’s mother, Sharon Syambizi, told justice Newa that before breathing his last, her son informed her that he was attacked by Elvis Nsokolo and other pupils from Twin Palm Secondary School.
She said Ryan told her that he was beaten by a mob of Twin Palm Secondary School pupils with golf sticks and that he could only recognise Elvis, the head boy.
However, judge Newa said in order for Nsokolo to be guilty of murder it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt that he and other pupils from Twin Palm had formed a common intent to assault Ryan who was from Kabulonga Boys and that his death was a probable consequence of execution of that intent.
“While there is no evidence to show when the deceased was firstly assaulted, the evidence shows that he was bleeding from the ears and his head as testified by state witnesses. There is no evidence to show that the initial bleeding caused the death of the deceased. The evidence shows thereafter that the deceased was assaulted by a group of five pupils who used golf sticks,” said judge Newa. “There is nothing that establishes that after a fight broke out Nsokolo participated in the assaulting of Ryan as evidence shows that the pupils scampered.”