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Life sentence for albino murderers

Michael Kaiyatsa

The High Court sitting in Nkhata Bay Wednesday sentenced 21-year-old Frank Thonje and his accomplice Bonzo Chirwa, 57, to life imprisonment for the murder of Yasin Kwenda Phiri, a 54-year-old man with albinism, on December 31 2018.

Reading out the sentence meted by Judge Dorothy DeGabriele, Judge Chimwemwe Kamowa said evidence that the offence was heinous was so compelling that the court had no choice but to mete out a stiffer sentence.

Among other things, the court heard that Yasin Phiri was stabbed twice in the stomach, exposing his intestines, dragged outside his house, where both of his arms were chopped off, before his body was dumped in a nearby stream. The whole ordeal happened in full view of the victim’s 12-year-old son.

“Looking at the evidence, as outlined in the judgement, the convicts deserve a substantial sentence… it is an order of the court that each convict be sentenced to life imprisonment,” she read.

Initially, the State submitted that the case was so callous and gruesome that the right punishment was the death sentence.

However, the defendants, who were being represented by lawyers from Legal Aid Bureau, prayed to the court for a custodial sentence, considering that they [defendants] were relatively younger, among other factors.

But the court agreed with the State that the two committed a gruesome act.

“He [Yasin Phiri] suffered before he died. His body was dismembered and the parts were never found,” Kamowa read.

She said the argument that the first defendant was driven by immaturity, youthfulness and adventure did not hold water as, at that time, he was 19 years old— which makes him responsible.

The court also heard that the second convict, Chirwa, was a village head—Ndelekwa—who also helped with some errands during the burial of Kwenda Phiri.

“At his age, he was supposed to develop a mature temperament… the hunting of people with albinism is reducing them to commodities to make others rich… this means the convicts are worst offenders,” she read further.

According to court records, both convicts come from Traditional Authority Fukamapiri in Nkhata Bay.

Uncle to the late Kwenda Phiri, George Mphanda, welcomed the sentence but said the family of the deceased was struggling financially.

Mphanda said Phiri left behind five children who have become a burden to fend for.

“We wanted something that could be generating income for the family; remember the father was working… the child who witnessed the death of his father is doing school but it is on and off because of lack of school fees,” he said.

Defence lawyer Chimwemwe Chithope Mwale, who is the chief legal advocate at Legal Aid Bureau, said they would discuss the way forward with his clients.

Meanwhile, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa has said the life sentence is long enough and that justice has been served.

“What is also pleasing to note is that the court considered several factors; the sanctity of life and the importance of rehabilitation. These are the issues we have been advocating; to say life imprisonment is better than a death sentence,” he said.

He then appealed for support to the bereaved family as their breadwinner is long gone.

Initially, seven suspects were arrested in relation to the case and were charged with murder and genocide. However, five were acquitted.

The court acquitted Francis Chipateni Kalua, Lawrence Theu Kalua and Caesar Banda after they were found with no case to answer. The court also acquitted two others, Gwera Banda and Peter Pola, for lack of evidence.

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