Three prisoners remain on death row after their names were left out from the list of 25 who were supposed to benefit from presidential clemency to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
The Nation has established that three prisoners identified as John King Masula, Gerald Banda and Sophia Jeremy have not benefited from President Lazarus Chakwera’s response to a petition from the Legal Aid Bureau for his office to exercise clemency in line with Section 89(2) of the Constitution and commute death sentences to life imprisonment.
In an earlier interview, Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo, who chairs the Advisory Committee on Pardon, said since 1992 no prisoner has been executed because no President has signed a death warrant “so really it becomes an academic exercise” to sentence people to death.
The minister is yet to respond to our questionnaire on the trio’s fate, but a Cabinet minister privy to this issue confided in us that this was just an error because the three prisoners were being held outside Zomba Central Prison where there is a designated cell for death row prisoners.
Masula and Banda are at Mzimba Prison while Jeremy, the only female prisoner on death row, is based at Domasi Prison in Zomba.
Malawi Prison Service spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba yesterday said the three could not qualify to benefit from presidential clemency due to misconduct and that was the reason they were transferred from Zomba to other facilities.
He said: “One of the requirements for a prisoner to benefit from presidential clemency is good conduct. The three out of 25 did not qualify due to gross misconduct in the course of serving their sentences.”
Legal Aid Bureau director Masauko Chamkakala confirmed that their petition to the President included all 25 names of prisoners on death row.
He said the petition was meant to formalise what has been the practice since 1992 where there has been no execution of death sentences thereby rendering all death sentences de facto life sentences.
Said Chamkakala: “It is true that our petition had 25 inmates while the commutation order had 22. Our inquiry shows that the three remaining inmates were inadvertently left out as they are not resident at Zomba Central Prison.”
He said their next course of action is to send another petition to the President on the three, saying remaining on death row has serious psychological effects on the three as it assumes that they are up for execution.
Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) executive director Victor Mhango yesterday said the government should come out clearly on this issue which he said does not make sense.
“I am surprised because I gather this was just some omission and it would be corrected. If they may not be executed, why not just put them on life imprisonment and find an appropriate punishment for their so-called misconduct? We need clarity from the Minister of Justice on this matter,” he said.
In a separate interview, Solicitor General Allison Mbang’ombe said he was not aware of the issue and insisted that we check with Mvalo.
Minister of Homeland Security Jean Sendeza also said only Mvalo, as chairperson was better-placed to respond.
In the just-ended meeting of Parliament, the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament presented a report, following consultations, which recommended the removal of death penalty in the statutes.
In 2007, in the Kafantayeni case, the High Court of Malawi sitting as a Constitutional Court outlawed mandatory death sentence leading to resentencing of those who were on death row, several inmates were released based on the number of years served while others were sentenced to life imprisonment.
However, the 25 inmates in the Legal Aid Bureau petition could not benefit from the re-sentencing programme as their sentences were not mandatory death sentences which were outlawed by the court in 2007 in the Kafantayeni case, according to Chamkakala.