Last Friday, I received a post on the Malawi Association of Secular Humanists (ASH) mailing list pleading for funds to help free three elderly women,Liness Nkhukuyalira (83) Kanthunkhako Supaunyolo (80) and Nurse Nthala (75) (pictured, left), who had been languishing in prison for witchcraft related offenses. There are well over 50 people in Malawian prisons for witchcraft crimes. George Thindwa, a member of ASH and a tireless defender of secular rights, managed to secure the release of three of them in exchange for a fine of approximately $30, an incredible sum for the typical Malawian.
Immediately, I posted pleas for donations from friends and members of the University of Michigan community. The response was overwhelming. Many came from friends and acquaintances, but others came from all quarters of the UM community. We managed to raise over $600, well above our target of $250 (fines, transport and household money). The remaining money will be set aside to aid others who may be have the opportunity to be released in the future. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE. This is a great step not only for the Malawian Humanists, but also for human rights.
Witchcraft accusations in Malawi predominantly occur in extremely poor areas, are largely directed at elderly women who live alone, and orphaned children who must live with relatives. Often the accused are mentally ill or epileptic. The accusers are overwhelmingly children. Cases are heard with little evidence, and a lack of financial resources and education among the accused prevent them from defending themselves against prosecution.
I wired George money on Saturday, and he immediately left for the court on Monday morning, paid their fine and received their release orders. He then drove to the prison secured the ladies’ release and let them stay in his home for the evening. He then transported the women back to their villages in Salima, and arranged a meeting with the local chiefs.
The back story is that the child pictured at the right with the red shirt developed a nose bleed one night and claimed Ms. Supaunyolo beat him on the nose because he had lost the key to her magic plane. The family then went to the village headman, who contacted police and had Ms. Supaunyolo tried and imprisoned.
The release of these three women garnered the attention of all of the major Malawian news outlets, in addition to being featured on the BBC (update forthcoming). It is hoped that the awareness of cases such as this will lead to the release of the other 50 or so people held on witchcraft related crimes, and for the courts to cease prosecuting them.
What happens to the women in their villages is, of course, of grave concern. However, the alternative, dying in the squalid conditions of a Malawian prison, are far worse. We can very much only hope that the incident is forgotten and that the members of the village reconcile. George spoke with the village leaders, and it is hoped that the village chiefs can work to ensure that cases like this never happen again.
Until then, THANK YOU. The small contributions that everyone made had MASSIVE impacts in the lives of these three women and will send waves of positive effects for human rights in Malawi. Below are pictures of the release letter from the court, and of Mr. Thindwa with a village leader. Listed below that are people who are still in prison for withcraft related offenses who await release.
|No||Name of Person||Age||Sex||Offence||Sentence(months or years)||Remarks by ASH|
|1.||Stella Maganizo||40||F||Pretending witchcraft||48 months||Recommended for release|
|2.||Dumisani Tamverankhani||60||M||Practicing Witchcraft||5 years|
|3.||Jambo Mwachangu||19||M||Conduct related to witchcraft||3 months &d 8 months|
|wef- 7/12/09 &11/11/09||—–do——|
|4.||Pirirani Mangochi||18||F||Pretending witchcraft||12 months-wef-12/05/10||—–do——|
|5.||Roseline Bema||40||F||Practicing witchcraft||24 months||—–do——|
|6.||Lafikesi||78||M||Pretending witchcraft||60 months||Old and very sick. Need to be released immediately for medical attention.|
|7.||Ferson||70||M||Practicing witchcraft||30 months|
|Mkolokosa||wef 23-06-10||Recommended for release|
|8.||James Kunje||68||M||Pretending witchcraft||60 months|
|9.||Lester Sawerenga||44||M||Pretending witchcraft||12 months|
|10.||Henderson Chiosela||70||M||Pretending witchcraft||12 months||—–do——|
|11.||Wyson Kanjiwa||46||M||Practicing witchcraft||60 months|
|12.||Agness Clement||36||M||Practicing witchcraft||3 years||—–do——|
|14.||Aubi Jali||33||M||Practicing witchcraft||5 years|
|16.||Betina Sitolo||48||F||Practicing witchcraft||5 years|
|17.||Ambilira Amadu||53||F||Practicing witchcraft||2 years|
|18.||Malita James||48||F||Practicing witchcraft||5 years|
|19.||Uka Ajabu||70||F||Pretending witchcraft||24 Months|
|20.||Ngasonje Maida||74||F||Pretending witchcraft||24 Months|
|21.||Margaret Jackson||70||F||Practicing witchcraft||48 months|
|22.||Eviness Elifar||58||F||Practicing witchcraft||48 months||Has epilepsy and suffers from frequent fits. Needs medical attention.|
|23.||Justice Mpinganjira||45||M||Practicing witchcraft||Not convicted. Denied the charge. Died on remand.||He should be released posthumously|
|24.||Namakhalepo Kamphata||80||F||Practicing witchcraft||36 months||Old. Sick, Walks with clutches. Must be released to die at her home.|
|25.||Chigayo Tchale||75||M||Practicing witchcraft||36 months||Old and sickly. Needs medical attention.|
|26.||Alubano Alibelito||59||M||Pretending witchcraft||18 months||Recommended for release|
|27.||Chikumbutso Mponda||25||M||Practicing witchcraft||60 months||—–do——|
|28.||Elenora Lilipati||70||F||Practicing||2 years||—–do——|
|29.||Amina Asamu||70||Witchcraft||3 years|
|30.||Zuwana Kampalira||65||F||Practicing||30 Months|
|31.||Namalinda Josephy||70||F||Practicing||30 Months|
|32.||William Lamwira||18||M||Conduct related to witchcraft||3 months|
|33.||Fiades Felix||55||F||Practicing||72 months|
|Witchcraft||Date of discharge||—–do——|
|34.||Lexa Nyirongo||45||F||Teaching children witchcraft||3 months||—–do——|
|35.||Elvas Zimba||78||F||Teaching children witchcraft||3 months||Old. Must not be in Prison.|
|36.||Irene Mundoli||57||F||Teaching children witchcraft||3 months||Recommended for release|
|37.||Lea Nyimba||62||F||Teaching children witchcraft||4 years||There were 3 Nyimbas- all convicted at the same time.|
|38.||Mbonani||16||M||Alleged to have committed murder through witchcraft, i.e is said to have pierced a stick through the anus of the deceased through magic.|
|Sanditchaye||On remand.||Recommended for release|
|Wef- 6/ 4/ 10|
|40.||Williams Dickens Mzembe||52||M||Pretending Witchcraft.||Not convicted yet.||A case for withdrawal. The State has brought against them trapped up charges of pretending witchcraft. They are staying in Chinsapo, Likuni and the Accusers stay in Area 18. It is alleged they fly at night to cause havoc in Area 18.|
|Yet the Accused are answering to accusations relating to practicing witchcraft, i.e. teaching children witchcraft|
|Their accusers have not been charged|
|41.||Doris Mzembe ( wife to Williams Mzembe above)||60||F||Same as above||Same as above||Same as above|
|42.||Ms. Kate Kanjere||55||F||Teaching children witchcraft||72 months||On bail pending appeal. We recommend case withdrawal.|
|43.||Luth Msukwa||35||F||Teaching children witchcraft||72 months||On bail pending appeal. We recommend case withdrawal.|
|44.||Margaret Jali||39||F||Practicing witchcraft.||3 6 months. She was at Chichiri prison||Appealed. We recommend case withdrawal (as in Severe Kalonga below).|
|45.||Severe Kalonga||64||F||Practicing witchcraft||3 years.||Appealed. Recommend withdrawal of case.|
|She was at Chichiri prison|