Belief in witchcraft is widely held in Malawi by people of all levels of education and stature in society. Whereas the law does not accept the reality of witchcraft, the Police and judicial authorities, many of whom share the belief, distort the law to punish those who are accused of witchcraft.
It is mainly the elderly, men and women, who are accused of witchcraft and there are many very elderly and infirm imprisoned throughout Malawi - sentenced for upto 6 years without anything that would pass as substantive evidence in courts which do not accept superstiton and suspicion as adequate..
The Association of Secular Humanism in Malawi has made several attempts to persduade the authorities to release these unfortunates and has v isited many in our prisons. We need your help!
The State President of the Republic of Malawi,
Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika,
Your Excellency,APPEAL FOR PARDON AND DISCHARGE OF CASES FOR ALL WOMEN AND THE ELDERLY WHO ARE CONVICTED, ON REMAND AND BAIL FOR WITCHCRAFT RELATED OFFENSES
Your Excellency, we the undersigned report that there are many women and the elderly who are convicted and serving sentences in our prisons. Many are also on remand or bail answering cases on practicing witchcraft.
The problem of convicting women and the elderly arises because our police are incorrectly applying the law. According to the witchcraft Act, it is the ACCUSERS that are supposed to be charged and prosecuted. Unfortunately, our officers instead arrest the accused who are normally women and the elderly. They charge them with Pretending to be a Witch or Conduct Likely to Breach of the Peace and leaving the accusers to go free. At the courts, the accusers who have committed an offence by accusing others of witchcraft are paraded as state witnesses against the accused.
As a result, many innocent women and the elderly are being convicted. Some are sentenced to long periods in prison. Even when the accused go and complain against witchcraft accusations, the police turn around and charge and prosecute them. Furthermore some traditional leaders continue to invite witch finders into their communities for witchcraft cleansing even though such calling is illegal. These leaders are never prosecuted for encouraging such illegal exercises. We hereby attach a full list depicting witchcraft victims who are in jail or are answering cases in our courts. We also submit a dossier that covers stories of victims that led to their predicament, demonstrating how our police and the courts have been mishandling these people.
Your Excellency, we are appealing for your consideration so that our people who are in prison and those on bail and remand on witchcraft offences could be released through your Presidential pardon or have their charges withdrawn. We make the appeal being mindful of your policy where you have occasionally called on Malawians to desist from this practice of accusing our elderly citizens as witches or of practicing witchcraft.
The Association has made these positive contributions to bring relief to the victims who have suffered from witchcraft accusations and incorrect application of the law. In Jan 2011, we secured the release of 4 old ladies from Dowa district who were convicted of pretending witchcraft. We paid their fines, they were released and we delivered them to their villages. In Usisya, Nkhatabay, between November and Dec. 2010, a witch finder with authority from TA Mbwana terrorized the community where the main victims were women and the elderly. The calling of witch finders is illegal. In Jan. 2011, we received the complaint and with the help of the Inspector General, the witch hunt was stopped and the witch hunter was arrested. With our meager resources, we have a program of visiting all prisons across the country to cheer up prisoners on witchcraft to lift up their spirits.
Your Excellency, many of these victims are old, some have died in prison while others are sick. They cannot stand prison conditions. For example; James Mpinganjira died at Maula prison while on remand in 2010; Mr. Kalimake died at Maula prison in 2009. He was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment in 2007; F. Mkolokosa aged 70 years died at Chichiri prison in Nov. 2010 and C. Tchale aged 75 years died at Maula prison in Dec. 2010. Many other inmates who are sick include; L. Tamverankhani of Chichiri prison; Uka Ajabu at Mangochi; Namalinda Josephy at Dedza and Margaret Jackson is epileptic and suffers from frequent fits. Namakhalepo Kamphata at Maula prison is very old and unable to walk and very sick. The Central hospital has recommended home based care (home being Maula prison) for her.
Your Excellency, we appeal to you to please bring relief to these innocent Malawians. Please consider them for pardon. They should be released. We should not be convicting our citizens in the 20th Century because of witchcraft. We also appeal to you to remind our Police to apply the witchcraft law correctly. They should charge and prosecute the accusers without fear of favor.
Thank you for taking the time to read our letter. We are confident that our appeal will meet your favourable consideration, your Excellency.