Human Rights Watch: Teacher, boarding students ‘tortured’ by police officers after riot

The teacher was reportedly tortured after a riot

A teacher and some students of the St. Bernadette’s Technical Institute at Navrongo in the Upper East Region have told Media Without Borders they suffered torture at the hands of some police officers after a riot broke out on campus on Saturday, 13 May 2023.

The riot was rooted in a number of old grievances some students bore against the school’s authorities. But it was triggered by a sudden ban by the school’s senior housemaster, Mumuni Ayaabane, on an inter-ethnic football match being played by some students on campus that Saturday.  

The school is located at Navrongo, capital of the Kassena-Nankana Municipality.

Before that day, students had reportedly complained about authorities’ prohibition of entertainment programmes on campus and the quality of meals served them at the school among other concerns.

After the senior housemaster discontinued the match, the students left the field for their dormitories and came out in no time, carrying empty water storage containers and drums.

They gathered in front of the school’s administration block and, then, began to beat the mostly yellow containers and the drums to express their displeasure about both the long-standing issues and the latest one. They mingled the drumming with some protest songs.

The students gathered here to stage their protests.

Sensing danger, the senior housemaster fled the campus on foot, leaving his motorbike behind. His departure was soon followed by the arrival of a police team on a car on the campus. The team was dispatched from the District Police Headquarters in Navrongo.

The students moved towards the police vehicle. Not quite sure what the approaching boarders were up to, the police left the premises at once. Later, three police vehicles appeared at the scene, with the district commander, DSP Kingsley Kofi Kanda. Again, the students approached the vehicles, throwing stones.

A stone hit the commander in his right leg and two other policemen got injured. The police withdrew from the scene again but returned a third time with seven more vehicles and fired tear gas into the school. As the fume spread from the fired canisters, the boys dispersed in different directions and many of them left the campus. But the girls did not.

The police officers were dispatched from the command to the school.

“When they threw the tear gas, the girls ran into their dormitory. The smoke entered the dormitory,” Henry Ayeng, a teacher at the school, told Media Without Borders. “More than 15 students fell unconscious because of the tear gas.”

Ayeng was the only teacher on campus at the time. The school’s principal, Memuna Fuseini, does not live on the school’s premises despite the availability of an official residence on the campus for her. She lives several kilometres away in Bolgatanga, the region’s capital.

The girls’ dormitory where more than 15 students reportedly lost consciousness after police fired tear gas.

The lone teacher took the collapsed girls to his house on the campus and, with the aid of his family and some male students who remained, resuscitated the girls after pouring water on them in first-aid efforts. Their parents came and took them away after he contacted them by phone.

Alleged torture

Around 6:00 am the following day― Sunday, 14 May 2023― some police officers stormed into Ayeng’s yard, armed. Eyewitnesses say they were about six to seven in number.

Ayeng was still fast asleep when the police arrived, having exhausted his energy the previous day.

Henry Ayeng is a Health teacher at the St. Bernadette’s Technical Institute.

He had drained himself while single-handedly trying to restrain the angered students from rioting.

He had been occupied at the same time with telephone calls from his teacher colleagues and the principal who were relying on him for information about the turmoil on campus.

And he had spent the previous evening reviving the boarding schoolgirls who fainted after they were tear-gassed and reaching their parents thereafter to come for their recuperating wards and take them home for further treatment.

The police officers entered the yard through this gate.

He recalled in an interview with Media Without Borders on Saturday, 17 June 2023, that the police officers grabbed hold of his 16-year-old son as soon as they entered the yard and beat him pitilessly.

“That’s my first son. He is not attending school here. He had come home from outside the region at the time. They (the police officers) just came and arrested my son and started beating him. Three students were inside my yard at the time. They were with my children. They had come to help me with the students who fainted and they stayed the night at my place.

“When I came out, one of the police officers said there was a resemblance between the boy and me and told his colleagues that the boy must be my son. So, they stopped beating him. Then, they arrested me, saying they were arresting me for abetment of crime. They said I was harbouring criminals. They were referring to the students as criminals,” he said.

Henry Ayeng’s thighs after the torture.

“They handcuffed me against one of the students in front of my children. They handcuffed the other two students and sent us to the police station.”

He said the law enforcement officers beat them with cables and kicked them repeatedly with service boots as they led them from the house to the police station.

The teacher’s head after he was flogged with cables.

“At the police station, they made me to remove all my things, left with boxer [shorts] alone. And they started the beating. They were three. And I fell. Then, one of them used his boots to step on my chest. I thought one of my ribs got broken. They beat the students at the police station, too. One of the students fainted while they were beating him. When he lost consciousness, they poured water on him.

The teacher said one of the police officers stepped on his chest with his boots and said he felt a rib got broken.

“They didn’t allow anybody to see me while I was in their cells. Some of the police officers were not happy with the way their colleagues tortured me and the students. To my shock, it’s like the principal of the school is not worried about my arrest and torture. Meanwhile, she was taking information from me when the riot was taking place,” recounted the traumatised teacher.

Ayeng showing his back after the alleged torture.

At least 31 students were arrested by the police in connection with the riot. Two among the students who suffered the alleged torture, Jonathan Abagna and Daniel Atingane, told Media Without Borders the police officers also hit them with the butts of their rifles and stripped them.

One of the ‘tortured’ students, Jonathan Abagna. Inset: His upper arm after the alleged torture.

They showed the scars of their torture wounds to Media Without Borders and said the police “brutalities” left them partially disabled for days.

Daniel Atingane said he was stripped, beaten and hit with the butts of rifles.

The district commander was not in the office when Media Without Borders visited the District Police Command on Saturday, 17 June 2023, for comments on the matter. A crime officer, DSP Kingsley Dan Adda, who was around at the time said he was unaware of the alleged torture.

The torture is said to have taken place here.

When contacted on Sunday, the police public relations officer in the region, ASP David Fianko-Okyere, said the matter had not come to his notice.

Watch in the video below as the teacher and students narrate how they were tortured:  

Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/


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