FIVE 'WITCHES' - NO CASE TO ANSWER
When ASH’s George Thindwa gets his teeth into something he’s like a terrier with a rat. He’ll hang on to the end. His favourite quarry? Those who accuse others of witchcraft. Such cases, as we have documented before in this blog, are generally mishandled by Police and magistrates resulting in the unjust conviction of the unfortunate ‘witches’ and long spells of imprisonment.
Another strange case came up in February on George’s home turf – Lilongwe. Mercy Chikwatula (age 8) and Grace Witness accused Jimu Ali (58) and wife Grace Macheso (47), Ms. Ida Samuel (20), Lucy Kudzawe (40) and Ellen Kasabola (36) of practicing witchcraft. In particular they alleged that they were taking the child on a magic ‘plane to Blantyre some 330 kilometers away and causing the illness of her mother and Grace and by witchcraft. Normally the ‘plane is considered to be a lichero or winnowing basket seen here in one of its correct uses holding a selection of boa or edible fungi
The case was taken to the Police who charged the five with practicing witchcraft which all denied.
When the case went to court the Police changed the charge to one of pretending to be a witch.
Seeing the weakness in the Police case George drew up a list of questions for the accused to put to the witnesses, including the Police officer. These questions and the unsatisfactory answers convinced the magistrate and, on March 25, she ruled that the accused had no case to answer. They were consequently acquitted.
However, the affair did not finish there. The accusers were unhappy with the magistrate’s decision and they and their supporters harassed the newly-freed ‘witches’ after they left the court, accusing them anew of witchcraft. This is an offence under the current law. In fact, it is they who the Police should have charged when the matter first came to their attention. The Police arrested eight people and charged them with the correct offence of accusing people of being a witch.
It appears that the Police at that particular location have been given a lesson in the law by our ‘terrier’, George, and are now intent on applying it.
Another great victory for Humanism in Malawi.
In the recent case, reported here, of Bertha Yohane who was freed by the High Court on appeal after two years in prison, ASH has instructed lawyers to claim compensation for wrongful imprisonment. It is ASH’s intention to help all those unjustly imprisoned for witchcraft to make similar claims.