Even as murders and other crimes continue to haunt Malawians, their outrage has not translated into support for the ultimate punishment, the death sentence, a survey has shown.
A nationwide Nation on Sunday survey involving about 1 000 respondents has revealed that although people are horrified by serious crimes such as murder, they find the death sentence too horrifying to keep in the law books.
Out of 1 001 people who participated in the survey, 58 percent supported the idea of scrapping the death sentence.
Face-to-face interviews for the survey were conducted in 19 districts. The short service messaging (SMS) and the social media were also used to collect the data for the poll.
In Malawi, the death sentence is imposed on people who commit serious crimes such as armed robbery, treason, rape and murder. However, since the early 1990s when Malawi returned to multiparty democracy, no president has signed the execution papers authorising the implementation of the sentence.
Malawiâ€™s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Ralph Kasambara on Saturday said if the survey represents the views of Malawians on the matter, people are free to push for revision of the law to abolish capital punishment.
Francisco Zuze, public relations officer of the Community of Santâ€™Egidio DREAM Programme, which has been advocating for abolition of the death sentence, said time has come for Malawi to do away with capital punishment.
“Life is sacred and should not be deprived regardless of any conditions. Death sentence is irreversible, hence once you execute someone, if it is known that he was innocent, you canâ€™t reverse the execution. In countries where executions are done, more than 75 percent of those executed are poor people who could not afford a good lawyer.
“The ultimate reason for punishment is reformation, rather than retribution. An individual cannot be reformed through the death sentence,” said Zuze.
In the last five years, Britain has given a whopping Â£250 000 (K135 million) to the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) for a project whose main purpose was to increase civil society and community voices for influencing and demanding the abolition of the death penalty in Malawi.
HRCC executive director Undule Mwakasungula said the argument that the death sentence deters crime is not supported by research.
“Statistics show that there is no connection between capital punishment and a decrease in crime in any society,” said Mwakasungula.
Zuze also said studies have shown that when committing crime, people do not weigh punishment options and decide whether to commit it or not.
“The death sentence is upheld in our Constitution to meet political needs. It is often used to silence political opponents through infamous terms like treason.
“What we need as a country is not death sentence but good prison reformation. A prison system where when one is given life imprisonment, he should not be released anyhow. Normally, relatives of victims are frustrated when the murderer of their relative is released in a questionable manner,” he said.
The European Union (EU) is probably the forerunner of the drive to end the death penalty. At the beginning of October, the organisation released a press statement in which it argued that capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime as it is widely believed.
Those seeking the abolition of the death sentence may take heart from a 2008 judgement by the High Court which declared mandatory death sentence for murder unconstitutional.