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Malawi still has a death penalty, but no execution has been ordered by the last two presidents. Malawi still has a death penalty, but no execution has been ordered by the last two presidents.

Death penalty debate refuses to die

Written by  Chinsisi Moyo Oct 26, 2015

Debate is continuing in the public domain on whether Malawi should abolish the death penalty or not.

Some people believe the debate on the issue is a waste of time, while others suggest there is need for thorough consultation before a final decision is made.

The penalty was ceased about 20 years ago soon after the birth of multiparty democracy.

Malawi still has a death penalty, but no execution has been ordered by the last two presidents.

The current president and the previous president have made an attempt to show amnesty and at the same time relieve the pressure on prisons by pardoning large numbers of prisoners at one time.

The previous president Bakili Muluzi in 1995 released 650 prisoners on Malawi's 31st Independence Day celebrations.

The former president Bingu Wa Mutharika, ordered the release of 398 prisoners in 2007. These were prisoners who had served at least half of their sentence and were of good behavior.

Malawi retains the death penalty for murder, rape, treason, armed robbery and burglary with aggravated circumstances.

The jurisprudence created in the Ugandan courts, restricting the imposition and application of the death penalty had an impact in other African countries, including Malawi.

As a result of the abolition of the mandatory death penalty in 2007, all 192 prisoners sentenced to the mandatory death penalty are entitled to be re-sentenced. 

In what become known as the Kafanteyeni ruling the mandatory death penalty was deemed by the bench as unconstitutional as it amounts to an arbitrary deprivation of life, denies an accused the right to a fair trial and the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment.

There were 29 people on death row as of May 2014.

Countries like Malawi that have made the transition to democracy increasingly see abolition of the death penalty as a necessary step to signal their commitment to human rights.

Neighbouring countries, South Africa and Mozambique have abolished the death penalty.

Making the situation even more urgent is the fact that the average in-prison life expectancy is a meager 10 years. Due to the overcrowded nature of Malawi’s prisons, prisoners are packed into cells like sardines (photo) which facilitates the spread of HIV and TB. 

With such a short life expectancy it is possible that many of these prisoners will die before they are given the chance to appeal their sentence.  

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