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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

`Death Penalty: Cruel, inhuman and degrading with lethal consequences`

10th October 2011
Death row inmates: This year`s World Day Against Death Penalty focuses on the inhumanity of the death penalty as a cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.

Today, October 10, the world marks the Anti- Death Penalty Day. However, the day is marked like no other as there is no jubilation but rather mourning and pain for the several persons who instead of glory have found blood and ashes because of the laws in place.

In Tanzania, October 10, finds several prisoners on death row with some innocent, living an unpredictable life with the psychological torture of not knowing whether they would see the next day.

Not long ago, this scribe managed to talk to a convict who had stayed on death row for 18 years for killing someone he did not know his name let alone his face. Luckily, he won an appeal and is now out alive but if he were to be executed the story would have been tragic.

Amnesty International maintains that more often prisoners with influential families or other connections are more likely to escape execution unlike those who are poor and come from marginalized communities.

“In short, the death penalty is not only applied unfairly and in a secretive manner, but rather it is also discriminatory and is used against those who are least able to access their rights. It is little more than a macabre lottery whose consequences, for many, are lethal,” says Amnesty International.

In Saudi Arabia, several people have been and are being beheaded in public as a result of the law. One of such ruthless act according to the Amnesty International took place on the morning of April 4, 2005, where six young Somali nationals were taken from their prison cells in Jeddah, western Saudi Arabia, and beheaded in public.

The six had escaped war-torn Somalia in search of a better life only to fall victim to Saudi Arabia’s relentless use of the death penalty. Their families were unable to recover their bodies for burial.

This year's World Day Against the Death Penalty focuses on the inhumanity of the death penalty as Death row inmates around the world are held in appalling conditions: the cells are not suitable for a human being; the dietary regime is inadequate; and access to medical care is difficult.

“Not only are inmates placed in physically cruel and unusual circumstances, but their mind is also greatly affected by their situation, with many death row inmates suffering from mental illness and mental disabilities as a result of their death sentence,” stresses the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

The coalition mentions the capital punishment as unfair as it is discriminatory and is often used disproportionately against the poor, the mentally ill and those from racial and ethnic minorities.

“The effects of murder cannot be erased by more killing, and the death system prolongs the suffering of victims’ families. It inflicts more pain on families of those on death row, and it is inefficient as it has never shown that it deters crimes more effectively than other punishment,” says the coalition.

There are several methods used to carry out the executions ranging from stoning, beheading, and executing by rope, lethal injection, electrocuting, shooting and all you can think of. However, executions, regardless of the method used, are cruel and inhumane.

They can and do go wrong in many cases. Those in charge of executing also live and sleep with the guilty of seeing someone depart from the world. The horror in the victim’s eyes and the last moments is definitely not something one would want to remember, they are forced to live with a nightmare.

No wonder, the hang man is considered as one of the worst professional on earth, and only a man out of his senses would want to be employed in this department where all one has to do is to terminate one’s life simply because the law allows him to do so. Experience indicates that there have been countries where people advertised for a job vacancy for such a position and no one turned up for it.

In Tanzania there have been several historical decisions that were made to depict the evil deed of the death penalty as was the case with the late Chief Justice James Mwalusanya who in the famous Death penalty case of Republic v Mbushuu alias Dominic Mnyaroje 1994 TLR, case No. 146 of the High Court; bravely and boldly came forward and challenged the constitutionality of the death penalty. In his words and in deciding this case he said:

”I hold that the two petitioners have managed to prove on a balance of probabilities that the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and or treatment and also that it offends the right to dignity of man in the process of execution of the sentence.

At the same time the Republic has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that the impugned law is in the public interest and that it is a lawful law under article 30(2) of the Constitution. It is therefore my finding that the death penalty is unconstitutional - and therefore void as per article 64(5) of the Constitution. Order accordingly”

An anti death penalty activists from the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) Harold Sungusia says the law calls for mandatory free legal assistance for persons convicted of murder but stresses upon the need for those charged to be given a chance to pick a legal representative of their choice.

“ Appointing an advocate for them could lead to conflict of interest as a relative of a victim whose convict has killed may be appointed to defend them raising doubt on impartiality,” says Sungusia.

Activists call upon the need to abolish the death penalty and alternate with life imprisonment on account that no justice system is safe from judicial error and innocent people are likely to be sentenced to death.

Several measures have been taken in the country with the LHRC, SAHRINGON Tanzania Chapter and the Tanganyika Law Society taking lead by filing a petition at the High Court of Tanzania on October 10, 2008 calling upon the government to scrap the death penalty in its country books and alternate for the life imprisonment.

Sadly, the case is moving at a snail pace but it is our hope that one of these days our country will take heed of the advice. But as for now the fight must go on, to have a state that will respect the right to life by scraping this inhumane and degrading punishment.

May the souls of the victims of the capital punishment in the world rest in peace and may those on death row live with hope while knowing that someone is fighting for them. Let them say in their souls, ‘This Too Shall Pass’.

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