Taxpayer-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) says 112 murder convicts have been released from the country’s prisons under the Tilitonse Fund-sponsored Kafantayeni Project where cases of those sentenced to life imprisonment are set for rehearing.
Speaking yesterday in Lilongwe on the sidelines of a two-day civil society conference on inclusive and accountable governance being held under the theme Inclusive, Accountable and Responsive Governance: A Key to Development organised by Tilitonse Fund, MHRC director of civil and human rights Peter Chisi said out of the 154 cases that have been reheard under the project, 112 people have been released and 41 convicts have had their jail terms revised.
He said: “Within the three-year period of the project, about 112 people were released. We have been working with lawyers who are working pro-bono [free of charge] on these cases. Those that are released are then trained in various skills to help them once they return to their communities.”
Chisi said the goal of the project is to achieve equal access to justice for prisoners under the mandatory death penalty in compliance with the Kafantayeni decision of the High Court of Malawi.
The project name is derived from Francis Kafantayeni who was tried for murder in the High Court sitting in Thyolo before a judge and a jury for allegedly tying up his two-year-old stepson and burying him alive in 2002.
Kafantayeni admitted to killing his stepson, but, in his defence, he said he was temporarily insane after smoking Indian hemp (chamba). He was convicted and given a death sentence.
In September 2005, the convict sought a declaration that the mandatory death penalty was unconstitutional on several grounds. He was joined in the action by several others.
Ruling in the Kafantayeni and others v. Attorney General (2007), the court invalidated the mandatory death penalty and recommended that all prisoners initially given a mandatory death sentence were entitled to a new sentencing hearing.
In November 2010, the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal confirmed the Kafantayeni decision in the case involving Yasini McLemonce v Republic and noted that the Kafantayeni Decision “affected the rights of all prisoners who were sentenced to death under the mandatory provisions of Section 210 of the Penal Code.”
To date, the Kafantayeni Project has reheard 150 cases.
In his remarks during the opening of the conference, Vice-President Saulos Chilima conceded the slow processing of criminal and other cases in the courts of the country were hugely contributing to high congestions in the prisons while affecting resources given to the prisoners.
He said the country will only reduce congestion in prisons and the burden of feeding them by intensifying efforts to speed up hearing of criminal cases which at times take over 15 years.
In his remarks earlier, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu said the justice delivery system in the country needed to be strengthened for it to be efficient by eliminating delays that are there.
He said: “We should emphasise on the offenders and focus on the victims. We need to come up with programmes that address criminal justice which takes more than 15 years to be concluded. We need to be responsive enough to minimise the delays so that justice be passed in good time.”
During its six years of operations, Tilitonse Fund has established itself as the leading civil society governance fund in Malawi by working with 129 organisations implementing governance projects in 27 of the country’s 28 districts. Only Likoma is not on the list. n