Malawi Hangman's Job to Be Filled Amidst Death Sentence for Albinism Murder

People with albinism protest (file photo).
15 August 2019

Malawi government will call for people to apply to be the state's executioner in a country where employment is hard to find as courts are now handing down death sentences to killers of person with albinism, a recent one being two men and a woman.

The High Court sitting in central region border district of Mchinji found Douglas Mwale, Fontino Folosani and Sophie Jere guilty of murdering Priscott Pepuzani in 2015 using a metal bar and a hoe handle. The trio chopped off Pepuzani's limbs and later buried the rest of the body in a garden.

Passing sentence on Tuesday , Judge Esmey Chombo said it would act as a strong deterrent to others and help put an end to the crime.

Another man was sentenced to death in Malawi in May for murdering a teenager with albinism - the first time the death penalty had been handed down in such a case - though he has not been executed.

Malawi has, since late 2014, seen a surge in attacks on people with albinism, whose body parts are often used in witchcraft rituals to bring wealth and luck.

But the country has not carried out any executions since 1994, with death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

For any any executions to be carried out by the hangman, the Head of State is supposed authorise the death sentence.

The last executioner retired after carrying out his last job before former president Bakili Muluzi ousted dictator Kamuzu Banda in 1994 elections. Muluzi opposed death sentence and all leaders after him have not approved execution.

The departure of the hangman, who was said to be struggling with his conscience, left inmates on death row to have their sentences committed to life-impriosnment on humanitarian grounds.

The former executioner's identity has not been revealed but reports says during the one party state he would execute between two and four prisoners at dawn then months would pass before other hangings were carried out.

Presidential adviser on local policies Hetherwick Ntaba has been lobbying for the application of a death sentence to people convicted of murdering persons with albinism.

Ntaba, who is also chairperson of a committee tasked to fight against abuse of persons with albinism, is on record saying their appeal for the death sentence follows a fact-finding mission which showed that a good number of people are for the sentence as a deterrent measure to would-be offenders.

He said he was part of the team which conducted public inquiry on the issue of death sentence as part of consultations for the 1994 Constitution and that Malawians overwhelmingly supported the inclusion of death penalty.

"I do not think that perception has changed," he said.

Ntaba said: "If only you see a picture of the gruesome murder people of albinism have faced, you would agree with us that death penalty should be applicable."

Apparently, Ntaba is also implicated in the murder case of MacDonald Masambuka, a person with albinism, who is believed to have been murdered in Machinga in April last year.

The body of Masambuka, 22, was found buried on April 1 2018 after he was reported missing in March the same year. The case in in the High Court.

Former lawmaker Bon Kalindo first sounded the call for the death penalty, saying albino killers are vicious murderers who must be executed to prevent them from murdering again.

The Association of People Living with Albinism has since welcomed the death sentence hoping it will deter attacks on their members.

"This ruling enhances our faith in the judiciary and solidifies our belief that we have them as an advocate in our fight to curb killings and abductions against people with albinism," said Ian Simbota, leader of the association.

Malawi is one of the most dangerous countries for people with albinism, who are targeted for ritual killings because of a belief that their body parts can increase wealth.

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