The High Court of Malawi sitting in Nkhata Bay has sentenced Frank Mkweni Thonje, 21, and Bonzo Chirwa, 57, to life imprisonment for the murder of a person with albinism.
The two were found guilty of killing Yasin Kwenda Phiri, 54, on December 31 2018 by stabbing him in the stomach and removing his intestines in full view of his nine-year-old son at Mundiyeye Village, Traditional Authority Fukamapiri in Nkhata Bay.
Reading the sentence judgement on behalf of High Court Judge Dorothy DeGabrielle who heard the matter, Mzuzu-based High Court Judge Chimwemwe Kamowa said the actions of the two were gruesome, carefully-crafted and predatory.
She also condemned the two for exposing Kwenda’s son George to a traumatising situation.
Said Kamowa: “The commission of the offences was brutal, gruesome and was committed on a person with albinism. It is known by society at large that people with albinism are being targeted and killed.
“It is the view of this court that the hunting of people with albinism is reducing them to e a commodity to make others rich.”
The judge said persons with albinism face a daily struggle to keep themselves and their families safe.
“This means that the convicts are worst offenders,” she said.
Ironically, Chirwa is a village head and contributed resources for the funeral service of Kwenda while Thonje was still young and of good character.
Having observed the above, Kamowa said their actions were contrary to the expectations.
She said: “Looking at the evidence before this court, as outlined in the judgement and as submitted in rules of sentencing, the convicts deserve a sentence that reflects the manner in which the offences were committed as well as a sentence that protects and respects the sanctity of life.
“It is the order of this court that the convicts herein be sentenced to life in prison.”
In an interview after the sentencing, George Mphanda, the late Kwenda’s uncle, said while the court has done its part by giving them life, the family is helpless because the deceased is survived by five children who need to be taken care of.
In between sobs, the uncle said: “We lost Kwenda and we have to take care of the five kids. He was working at Kande Hospital and was able to take care of his family.
“Where will we get the resources to do that? All we are asking for is help to take care of the children.”
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation executive director Michael Kaiyatsa, who was present at the court, said justice prevailed.
But he appealed for support and protection of persons with albinism.
Kaiyatsa said: “The sentence is severe, but it is not going to stop atrocities against persons with albinism. We have already seen this year that the cases have continued. We appeal to government to do more to protect persons with albinism.
“It is atrocious to learn that government has done nothing to support Kwenda’s child who witnessed the death. It is cruel and shameful. Government must really do something about this.”
In his reaction, Centre for the Development of People executive director Gift Trapence lamented the atrocities against persons with albinism.
He suggested introduction of a programme such as social cash transfer to support persons with albinism.
Reacting to the judgement, Legal Aid Bureau chief legal advocate Chimwemwe Chithope Mwale, who represented the two convicts, yesterday said his office will liaise with their clients on the way forward.
“It is the court’s decision and court decisions are supposed to be respected. So, at this point, what we need to do is to have a discussion with our clients and from that discussion, we are going to form an opinion on how we proceed,” he said.
Initially, seven suspects were arrested in 2019 in relation to the case and were charged with murder, but some were acquitted when the court delivered its ruling on whether they had a case to answer.
Statistics from Malawi Police Service show that a total 195 cases related to attacks on persons with albinism have been recorded since 2014.
Out of these cases, 58 are at hearing stages in various courts across the country, five were concluded and are waiting delivery of judgements while 73 are under investigation.
Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi president Ian Simbota is on record as having decried the dragging of cases involving persons with albinism.
The 2018 Malawi Population and Housing Census indicates that there are 134 636 persons with albinism in the countr