A full bench of three high court judges has re-affirmed that the mandatory death penalty in Tanzania is constitutionally valid. No new factors had been given to the court to indicate that anything had changed since the last time the issue was considered by the judiciary, said the judges, so they could not vary the previous decisions or rehear the issue ‘on the same facts’. But, they said, the issue could be taken to the highest court via review if the petitioners felt strongly about the matter.
A recent witchcraft trial in Tanzania has led to a further seven people being added to the well over 500 convicts believed to be on death row. The case illustrates the difficult position in which Tanzanian courts find themselves: the death penalty is still applicable to murder and a few other serious offences and just three months ago the high court declared it was unable to change the law in relation to the death penalty. This despite the country’s president, John Magufuli, declaring that he would be unable to sign the documents required for anyone to be actually executed. He would find it just too difficult to do so, he said. So, while capital punishment has not been carried out for the last 25 years, the courts continue to pass the death penalty, and the numbers of condemned prisoners continues to grow.
The last court-imposed execution was carried out in Malawi during 1992. Some 15 people were on death row at the end of 2017, and though the number has increased since then there have been no further hangings. However, the question of whether the death penalty will ever actually be carried out has now been given a new urgency, following the sentence of a man convicted for murdering a fellow villager with albinism in the apparent belief that this would make him rich. Sentencing the accused, the judge reasoned that the whole country lived in fear because of “devilish, primitive” crimes against albino people, and that the courts had a duty to impose the ultimate sentence as a deterrent.
The appropriateness of the death penalty as a punishment for even extremely violent murder has been raised at the Supreme Court in Kampala. Members of Uganda’s apex court were considering the case of a 63-year-old woman who murdered and dismembered her husband. Though she was originally condemned to death, the five Supreme Court justices have replaced that sentence with a 30-year jail term. Their judgment illustrates the continuing conflict in the courts of Uganda about the place of the death penalty and the circumstances under which it should be imposed. It also shows the close attention trial courts need to pay to the balance between mitigating and aggravating circumstances, and to the sentencing guidelines, if they are to get the punishment correct.
After a cattle-rustling raid into Zambia by uniformed Angolan soldiers armed with assault rifles, a local man who was part of the group has been convicted and sentenced to death. It’s an unusual case for several reasons. For one, it is rare for such raids to result in a conviction. But the case also highlights the delays experienced at the Zambian courts. Here, the Zambian Supreme Court, the highest in the land, took more than four years to hand down its decision in a case that did not involve particularly complex questions of law. The delay should also be of concern since it involved a death penalty matter.