Malawi: 3 sentenced to death over killing of person with albinism

Second death sentence handed down in recent months related to violence against people with albinism.

    People with albinism, of which there are up to 10,000 in the country, are often victims of brutal attacks in Malawi [Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP]
    People with albinism, of which there are up to 10,000 in the country, are often victims of brutal attacks in Malawi [Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP]

    A Malawi court has convicted and sentenced three people to death for killing a person with albinism.

    The "three were found guilty of [murder and possessing human tissue] and have been sentenced to death," judiciary spokeswoman Agness Patemba told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

    The court 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 buried the rest of the body in a garden.

    The sentence was handed down in the western town of Mchinji on Tuesday.

    This is the second death sentence handed down in the country in the past three months.

    Another man was sentenced to death 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. 

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

    'Big step'

    In March, Malawi's President Peter Mutharika appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate the spate of attacks on people with albinism, after coming under mounting criticism over his response to the attacks.

    Overstone Kondowe, who heads the African Union for People with Albinism, said he hoped the sentence would curb the attacks.

    "This is really a big step and we want to encourage the Malawi government to continue [with tough penalties]," said Kondowe.

    "Whether they will really be hanged or not, it's not significant. The public will still get the message."

    The Association of People Living with Albinism also welcomed the ruling, 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.

    People with albinism, of which there are up to 10,000 in the country, are often victims of brutal attacks in Malawi - one of the world's poorest and most aid-dependent nations.

    This is because of their white skin resulting from a hereditary condition that causes a lack of pigmentation.

    Other conditions associated with albinism include vulnerability to bright light, which can cause legal blindness.

    Often, individuals with albinism are targeted in Malawi for their body parts to be used in witchcraft.

    More than 160 cases have been reported in the country since November 2014, of which 22 have been murders, Amnesty International said in May 2019.

    Just 30 percent of those attacks have been properly investigated, according to official statistics. 

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies