Human rights advocates have commended the Malawi President, Lazarus Chakwera, for removing 22 prisoners from death row and reducing their sentences to life imprisonment.
Documents from the Malawi Prison Service indicate that as part of this year’s Independence celebrations, president Chakwera has reduced to life imprisonment sentences of these 22 inmates who were waiting for their execution.
Commenting on the development, human rights advocate, Alexious Kamangila, applauded president Chakwera for the commutation saying this reflects the president’s commitment to promoting justice for all.
Kamangila who is currently advocating for the abolition of death penalty in the country, is of the view that the gesture by Chakwera is a clear indication that the capital punishment is not a requirement in Malawi.
The Legal Clinic Manager and Reprieve Fellow, further told Malawi24 that it is worrisome that the inmates were being tortured by being kept on death row for so long when chapter 19(3) of the constitution clearly states that: ‘No person shall be subject to torture of any kind or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’
“We applaud the President for such a progressive action that falls in tandem to the human rights dispensation. The President is walking the talk of the commitment his government made at the Universal Periodic Review, and that is very refreshing.
“Keeping people on death row for years is torture and comes into conflict with Rule of Law. The tone by the President through this commutation is clear, death penalty has out-lived its time, it’s time to abolish the death penalty,” reacted Kamangila.
While describing as a setback parliament’s rejection of a report by legal affairs committee that recommended abolition of death penalty, Kamangila said the commutation is a clear sign that Malawi will abolish the capital punishment very soon.
He has since called on the country’s Human Rights advocates and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to get united and engage more on the matter, saying there are possibilities that the Malawi Parliament will in no time abolish death penalty.
“The rejection of the Report was a setback without doubt but not disastrous as according to the proceedings, those that wanted the Report to pass weren’t really in minority but they looked like so.
“This commutation re-enforces that Abolition is nearer than ever before. We have a Parliament that is progressive and having witnessed a historic healthy debate on Abolition, this Parliament will abolish the death penalty,” he added.
In a separate interview, Executive Director of Centre for Human Rights Education Advice, (CHREA), Victor Mhango, said President Chakwera has revived the great Malawian humanitarian tradition of using the clemency power to spare lives as initiated by former President Bakili Muluzi.
Mhango said it is sad that the inmates have been living in the shadow of the gallows and existing in a state of constant fear for almost two decades which he described as total torture.
“We are excited and we applaud the President for this. It was torture for the Prisoners who were on death row. Many maintain their innocence and some were tortured into ‘confessing’ to crimes they said they did not commit,” said Mhango.
He concluded by concurring with Kamangila that the decision by president Chakwera is another step towards the abolition of death in the country.
As it stands, Malawi has no single prisoner who is on death row.
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