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Malawi humanist group fights for release of ‘witches’


Based on a story from the NYASA Times, 12/1/2011 and Zodiak online, 11/1/2011

A secular humanist society in Malawi is raising funds to pay for the release of women imprisoned after being accused of witchcraft.

Three women aged 62, 72, and 80 have recently been released after the Association of Secular Humanism paid their fines through donations. The women were sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in December, after defaulting on fines they couldn’t afford.

The group claims another 50 women remain imprisoned following witchcraft accusations from neighbours.

While belief in witchcraft is still widespread in Malawi it is not recognised in law. Any person making an accusation of witchcraft could, in fact, be charged, although this rule does not appear to be uniformly followed across the country.

The Executive Director of the Humanist Group, George Thindwa, accuses police and prosecutors in the lower courts of using the wide-ranging ‘breach of the peace’ laws to charge women after a witchcraft accusation has been made.

Thindwa has previously called on the Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika to step in and order the women’s release.

Malawi clearly has a long way to go before practical reality matches the legal situation, but it’s a positive step that a humanist group is working to help women in this way.

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