The Association of Secular Humanism, Malawian human rights group, has demanded that the Malawian government release over eighty Malawians serving time in prison for practicing witchcraft. There is no law against witchcraft in Malawi.
Widespread belief in witchcraft, according to reports, led the government to set up a committee last year to criminalize the practice. Nonetheless, the committee’s failure to propose laws that incriminate those found practising witchcraft renders the conviction of anyone suspected of witchcraft illegal.
Despite the lack of anti-witchraft laws, last month, 61 elderly women, seven elderly men and 18 younger adults were convicted, and received sentences of between four and six years in prison for practicing witchcraft.
Malawian Justice Minister George Chaponda clearly stated that in Malawi, a person could only be found guilty of practicing witchcraft if they confessed to being a witch. However, over eighty people were found guilty even after pleading not guilty, reports claimed.
George Thindwa from the Association of Secular Humanism told reporters that the Malawian justice system was disreputable for imprisoning people accused of witchcraft.
“We are intervening in this matter because we are concerned we still have prisons in Malawi [with] people being accused of being witches. The courts were wrong 100%, [and] the police, to actually accommodate cases,” Mr. Thindwa was quoted by reporters.
Thindwaa further appealed to the chief justice and inspector general of police to inform their staff that witchcraft cases “should not be entertained”.
He also believes that the legal breach is because many officials were “witchcraft believers”.
“The problem is that our police and our courts most of them are witchcraft believers and this belief is very strong here in Malawi.”
Justice Minister Chaponda insists as far as he was aware, there was not a problem, and he urged those with complaints to come forward. And Mr. Thindwa has welcomed the invitation and claims to have a complete record of the disputed cases to the Justice Ministry.
While it is illegal to practice witchcraft or convict anyone for it, women especially elderly women remain targets of prejudice.