In response to a campaign by Humanists, the government of Malawi has promised to review the cases of more than 80 people imprisoned for witchcraft. A local Humanist group, the Association for Secular Humanism (ASH), supported by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), is leading the campaign to end prosecutions on charges of “witchcraft” and to release everyone in Malawi jailed as a “witch”.
Throughout Africa, increasing numbers of people are being accused and persecuted for witchcraft. Those abused in the name of witchcraft are mainly the most vulnerable members of the population—the poor, the elderly, women, children and people with disabilities. As part of its campaign against witch hunts, IHEU has reported witchcraft related human rights abuses in many countries across the region, including Gambia, Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. (See https://humanists.international/witch-hunts-and-human-rights-abuses-africa) However, the success of the Humanist campaign in Malawi is unprecedented.
News about this important campaign has been carried by several media organizations worldwide including the BBC, RFI, The Guardian, and Irish Times. According to the director of ASH, Mr George Thindwa, at least 80 persons, mainly women, alleged to be witches are languishing in jail across Malawi.
Malawi law does not recognize a crime of “witchcraft”. In fact, under the law of the country, it is a crime to accuse somebody of witchcraft. But recently the courts in Malawi have been yielding to social pressure and have convicted or remanded in jail several persons accused of witchcraft.
The convictions were based on the confessions elicited from children who alleged that accused persons taught them witchcraft, turned them into pigs and chickens or flew them to South Africa and Zimbabwe on ‘magic planes’. Some others were imprisoned for allegedly killing children through witchcraft or for causing children to disappear.
The campaign by ASH attracted the attention of the government of Malawi. The Director of Public Prosecution invited and met with the leaders of ASH, and pledged to reviews the cases of all those imprisoned or remanded for allegedly practicing witchcraft.
Leo Igwe is IHEU International Representative for Southern and West Africa. He visited Malawi in September of this year to support the Humanist campaign against witch hunts.