The Herald (Harare)

23 August 2014

Zimbabwe: Minister Spares 97 Death Row Inmates

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has said he will not sign death warrants for 97 murder convicts on death row because the sentence is too harsh and must be done away with. Although the Constitution provides for the penalty, Minister Mnangagwa said he still believed that it was unfair.

Officially opening the Sadc Lawyers Association's 15th Annual General Meeting and Conference here yesterday, Minister Mnangagwa said he refused to sign the death warrants.

The two-day conference that opened yesterday runs under the theme: "Strengthening the Rule of Law and Good Governance in the Sadc Region: A call for Transparent and Accountable Leadership".

"As we speak, we have 97 inmates who were sentenced to death by the court, but are still awaiting execution," said Minister Mnangagwa.

"One of them is female, while 96 others are males. Fortunately, my signature as Justice Minister is required for them to be hanged and I am not giving it. That is why execution has not been done."

In terms of the new Constitution, women are no longer being sentenced to death and the only woman featuring on the death row would automatically be saved.

Minister Mnangagwa, who escaped a death penalty during the Smith regime, said the new Constitution had an effect of saving more people from the hangman's noose.

"The same Constitution saves offenders below 21 years and those above 70-years-old," he said.

"This is a giant step in the fight against the death penalty."

Minister Mnangagwa's views on the death penalty came at a time the Law Society of Zimbabwe was appealing to Government to urgently amend legal provisions for imposing the death penalty.

Former LSZ president and a top Bulawayo lawyer Mr Josphat Tshuma said judges were having challenges on sentencing murder convicts because the provision was vague.

"Death penalty in terms of the new Constitution can only be imposed under aggravating circumstances, but there is no provision that explains what the aggravating circumstances are," he said.

"The Constitution left it for the judges and the legislators to define the aggravating circumstances." Mr Tshuma, on behalf of the Zimbabwean lawyers, requested Minister Mnangagwa to convey the message to the relevant authorities for the legal lacuna to be rectified.

"We are requesting the minister to take the matter up so that Government speedily comes up with an Act of Parliament explaining the aggravating circumstances warranting death penalty," said Mr Tshuma.

Sadc lawyers at the conference contributed US$10 000 to assist the family of a Swazi lawyer Mr Thulani Maseko and a journalist who were recently jailed two years for contempt of court that arose in the execution of his legal duties.

The Sadc lawyers were of the view that the two were wrongly convicted as they were simply exercising their right to freedom of expression.

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