Govt/students face-off: Malawi Student activist found dead in suspicious circumstances

Blantyre, Malawi (PANA) - Tension is high at the Polytechnic, a constituent college of the University of Malawi , following the death of a final-year engineering student over the weekend.

Robert Chasowa, a political activist, was found dead from what police say is suicide but his colleagues and family members are buying none of it.

Thousands of people, most of them students, thronged a cemetery in Blantyre Monday to witness the emotional burial of the 25-year-old final-year Mechanical Engineering student who was found dead at the Polytechnic last Saturday.

There was heavy police presence at the Henry Henderson Institute Cemetery to check any reactionary violence.

The death of Chasowa has shocked Malawians, especially coming at the height of political tension following the July 20 anti-government protests.

Chasowa belonged to a grouping called Youth for Freedom and Democracy (YDF) that has been publishing anti-government leaflets.

Among its recent publications, YDF alleged it had evidence linking President Bingu wa Mutharika and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to the arson attack on offices of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) of renowned activist Rafiq Hajat.

A molotov cocktail, laced with petrol, was lobbed into the IPI offices in the city turning office property to ashes. Hajat was a leading proponent of the unprecedented July 20 anti-government demonstrations.

Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito told PANA investigations show that Chasowa killed himself because he was being hunted by police.

"Yes, he was wanted by Police because he was named by someone in our hands for authoring/distributing anti-government newsletters," he said.

Mukhito said police arrested the leader of the pressure group, who is known as Black Moses who mentioned Chasowa as being behind the publication of what the police chief called 'anti-government propaganda'.

"The boy even left a note to his girlfriend before killing himself and the post-mortem report confirms this," he said.

Police have since published a suicide note Chasowa allegedly wrote to his father in which the youth activist purportedly said he was committing suicide because, according to the note, "politics is fun but dangerous".

"Politics is fun father, but dangerous I agree. I was accountable to you and the family. I should have told you everything...something terrible is about to happen to me. Am sorry I never explained anything when I came last time. I am sorry for the pain that I am about to cause. I have taken my own life," the note reads in part.

But students at the Polytechnic and family members disputed the police version, suspecting foul play. They say, for instance, after allegedly throwing himself off a five-storey building, Chasowa should have sustained multiple fractures. But the post-mortem only confirms head injuries.

"His brain could have been splattered all over the place and several bones could have been broken," said one student. "There is more to this than meets the eye."

A lecturer said a few days before Chasowa's death, plain-clothes police officers came to the college and quizzed the administration why they were allowing the pressure group to operate from the campus.

"We told them this is an institution of higher learning which accommodates all manner of groups," said the lecturer who cannot be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

And, writing on her page on the social-networking site Facebook, his sister, Dinnah, said Chasowa was never suicidal. She said apart from the head injuries, his corpse shows a hole under his chin which might have been caused by a sharp object like a screw-driver.

"The papers are only writing about the cut on the back of Robert's head but he's got a hole under the chin...Anamubaya ndi screw driver [He was stubbed by a screw driver]." she writes. "I have seen my brother's body with my own eyes before the post-mortem."

But Mukhito, the police chief, said all these were mere speculation.

"People may distort facts but the truth shall prevail," he said.

The death of the youth activist comes amid a crack-down on anti-government critics by unknown people. Already, three properties belonging to human rights activists and opposition leaders have been torched by petrol bombs. No one has been arrested so far in connection to the arson attacks.
-0- PANA RT/VAO 26Sept2011

26 september 2011 18:54:44

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