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Police should respect suspects’ rights

Over the weekend, police swooped on a house party in Kira municipality. They arrested suspects and later paraded them before photographers – accusing them of involvement in sex orgies (or sex party as police called it).

Their images were shared widely on social media. Police said the suspects would be taken to court and charged for disregarding the Covid-19 standard operating procedures of social distancing. These peoples’ reputations have been ruined and their rights to privacy and presumption of innocence abused.

The principle of presumption of innocence in our legal system basically means an accused or suspect has to be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt by a competent court. Further, the state or the accuser bears the burden to prove that guilt.

Police officers are not magistrates or judges to declare people criminals. On the contrary, police has to ensure that the rights of suspects are respected and enjoyed. For instance, when a suspect is arrested, it is the duty of the police officer to inform the suspect immediately why he or she has been arrested in a language the suspect understands.

Police has to inform the suspect of their right to a lawyer. Further police should enable the suspect to inform his next of kin as soon as it is practicable.

The police have to ensure that the liberty of a suspect is not abused by keeping that person in custody beyond 48 hours. Being a suspect does not automatically turn one into a criminal. It means police have reasonable ground to believe that you were about to commit or you committed a crime. All these grounds are subject to trial by a competent court.

Police like to be seen to be working. They allow cameras to roll as they work or as they arrest perceived drink drivers at police check points. They like treating suspects like criminals. In the end, they damage innocent people’s reputation. We have seen suspects violently tucked away under patrol pick-up truck seats.

This is degrading and dehumanizing. Some people have sued the police and the attorney general for false imprisonment. Unfortunately, the actual culprits who mistreat suspects get off scot-free because the law shields them.

It is the attorney general who is sued. Perhaps the Professional Standards Unit should discipline the culprits who abuse suspects and ultimately taint the police’s image. Police ought to be civilized and respect suspects’ rights. They don’t have to demonize, dehumanize and degrade any person in order to prove they are working or fighting crime.

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