Malawian “Witches” Freed: Thank You to all Who Helped

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.

Release letter from the court.

George Thindwa with the village headman.

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.
  Tamverankhani       wef-10/01/08  
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  
          wef-13/10/09 —–do——
9. Lester Sawerenga 44 M Pretending witchcraft 12 months  
          Wef20/09/10 —–do——
10. Henderson Chiosela 70 M Pretending witchcraft 12 months —–do——
          wef- 12/05/10  
11. Wyson Kanjiwa 46 M Practicing witchcraft 60 months  
          wef-19/01/09 —–do——
12. Agness Clement 36 M Practicing witchcraft 3 years —–do——
          wef-15/04/09  
14. Aubi Jali 33 M Practicing witchcraft 5 years  
16. Betina Sitolo 48 F Practicing witchcraft 5 years  
          wef-11/01/08 —–do——
             
17. Ambilira Amadu 53 F Practicing witchcraft 2 years  
          wef-19/02/10 —–do——
             
18. Malita James 48 F Practicing witchcraft 5 years  
          wef-11/04/08 —–do——
             
19. Uka Ajabu 70 F Pretending witchcraft 24 Months  
          wef-5/10/09 —–do——
             
20. Ngasonje Maida 74 F Pretending witchcraft 24 Months  
          wef-5/10/09 —–do——
             
21. Margaret Jackson 70 F Practicing witchcraft 48 months  
          wef-19/07/10 —–do——
             
22. Eviness Elifar 58 F Practicing witchcraft 48 months Has epilepsy and suffers from frequent fits. Needs medical attention.
          wef-19/07/10  
             
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.
          wef-01/06/09  
             
25. Chigayo Tchale 75 M Practicing witchcraft 36 months Old and sickly. Needs medical attention.
          wef-01/06/09  
             
26. Alubano Alibelito 59 M Pretending witchcraft 18 months Recommended for release
          wef-13/10/2010  
             
27. Chikumbutso Mponda 25 M Practicing witchcraft 60 months —–do——
          wef-27/12/2007  
             
28. Elenora Lilipati 70 F Practicing 2 years —–do——
        witchcraft wef-  
29. Amina Asamu 70   Witchcraft 3 years  
          wef- —–do——
30. Zuwana Kampalira 65 F Practicing 30 Months  
        witchcraft wef-11/12/09 —–do——
31. Namalinda Josephy 70 F Practicing 30 Months  
        witchcraft t wef-11/12/09 —–do——
32. William Lamwira 18 M Conduct related to witchcraft 3 months  
          wef-26/10/10 —–do——
             
33. Fiades Felix 55 F Practicing 72 months  
        Witchcraft Date of discharge —–do——
          4/5/2011  
34. Lexa Nyirongo 45 F Teaching children witchcraft 3 months —–do——
          wef-Oct/2010  
             
35. Elvas Zimba 78 F Teaching children witchcraft 3 months Old. Must not be in Prison.
          wef-Oct/2010  
             
36. Irene Mundoli 57 F Teaching children witchcraft 3 months Recommended for release
          wef-Oct/2010  
             
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  
             
39. Kelentine 63 F Practicing On Remand  
  Chikondoni     Witchcraft Wef-27-03-10  
             
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.
          DOF- (15/7/08  
             
43. Luth Msukwa 35 F Teaching children witchcraft 72 months On bail pending appeal. We recommend case withdrawal.
          DOR- (15/7/08  
             
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
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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

3 responses to “Malawian “Witches” Freed: Thank You to all Who Helped”

  1. Harold Williams says :

    Excellent summary, Pete. Over the last few days we have been following the arrest in Nigeria of our IHEU Africa Representative, Leo Igwe, whohas been tackling horrifying child witch cases in his native Nigeria. He has apparently embarrassed the State Governor who jailed him and a colleague just a few days before he was due to give evidence at a judicial enquiry on child witchcraft. Fortunately, he has been released. I wonder whether you have been following the case. If not I will send you the links or any statements coming out of Nigeria

  2. Pete Larson says :

    Thank you, Harold. No, I had not heard about it but I just did some searching and found some information. Very disturbing, indeed. Thank you for letting me know.

    Keep up the good work.

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