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Will Lazarus Chakwera sanction capital punishment?

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By Isaac Salima:

Isaac Simbota

If the President woke up today and sanctioned the execution of all prisoners on death row in Malawi, 24 people would be ‘officially’ killed, ISAAC SALIMA writes.

Byson Kaula, 67, was in the news about two years ago when he was nearly executed after being found guilty of murder.

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Thrice, he survived by what he described as ‘God’s grace’. On each occasion he was about to be hanged, he said, the hangman would stop work before finishing his duty of hanging prisoners on death row.

Kaula finally, walked to freedom after his sentence was reviewed. He is now a free man. But the deathly prison cells which he warded off remain home to several convicts who were condemned to be executed.

Under the laws of Malawi, the death penalty is mandatory for prisoners convicted of murder or treason. Anyone convicted of rape, aggravated robbery and house breaking or burglary may also suffer a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment.

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But the coming in of multi-party democracy in 1994 halted the executions as no president has ever since sanctioned that a prisoner on death row should be killed.

Few weeks ago, the High Court sitting in Mchinji sentenced White Chilumpha and James Kainja to death for murdering a one-year-and-11-month-old baby with albinism in 2016.

This is the first death sentence to be meted out under the Tonse Alliance administration which is being led by President Lazarus Chakwera.

It is not clear if Chakwera will sign for the execution order of the two people as the country’s previous Heads of State never signed for it since 1994. Capital punishment is deemed a violation of human rights.

Chakwera’s Executive Assistant Sean Kampondeni asked for a copy of the court ruling on the Mchinji case before commenting on the issue. We had not managed to get hold of the copy the time we went to press.

Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo said it is the President’s prerogative to sanction the execution of inmates who were handed capital punishment.

“The President may decide whether to sign for the execution or not for those sentenced to death. However, I may not say his stand on the matter now because we have not discussed it,” Mvalo said.

Since the beginning of killings and abductions of persons with albinism, the High Court has sentenced about 10 people to death after being convicted of the same. Last year, the High Court sitting in Mchinji sentenced to death Douglas Mwale, Sophie Jere and Fontino Folosani for killing a person with albinism Priscott Pepuzani in 2015.

Former president Peter Mutharika did not come out clear on whether he would sign for the execution order of the three.

Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi president Ian Simbota maintains that their interest is to see a long lasting solution to the abductions and murder of people with albinism, in Malawi.

“We are not going to force the President into signing the death sentence. As an organisation that also advocates for human rights, we believe in the sanctity of life and we are looking for a government that must provide solutions to our attacks. We are looking at stiffer penalties, yes, but at the end, the life that has been lost won’t be claimed back,” Simbota said.

When asked what should be the right punishment for those found guilty of murdering persons with albinism, Simbota said: “I think it is an issue to be decided by courts but if the President is ready to sign for the execution order, he can go ahead because that can also send a strong message to would-be offenders.”

Political and social commentator George Phiri said it is doubtful if Chakwera can append his signature for the death sentences.

“Some countries in the world have waived the death sentences and I hope we can follow suit. The best we can do is to commit the convicts to life imprisonment,” Phiri said.

Executive Director of Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance, Victor Mhango, an organisation that promotes human rights issues, urged authorities to do away with the death sentence.

“Life of a person is very important and nobody should be given the mandate to end somebody’s life. We know that all the former presidents never signed for executions. However, there is a global campaign to abolish the death sentence and we support that because we do not see any president courageous enough to sign for it,” Mhango said.

Several countries in the world have abolished the death sentence, apparently, because it promotes the violation of human rights.

Amnesty International, a Non Governmental Organisation that focuses on human rights, has been spearheading the abolishment of the death sentence, saying it breaches human rights, in particular, the right to life and the right to live free from torture.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, promotes the above rights.

Amnesty International reports that in 2019 most known executions took place in countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt.

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