A human rights group in Malawi is causing a stir as it embarks on a mission to gather 10,000 signatures from locals to force President Bingu wa Mutharika free several jailed witches.Association of Secular Humanism (ASH) says most of the convicts are women jailed for teaching witchcraft to children. Reports say some are doing jail time of up to six years.
“I’m asking you to sign this petition to help us reach our goal of 10,000 signatures. I care deeply about this cause, and I hope you will support our efforts,” a senior official of the association, Harold Williams is quoted saying.
The petition reads: “Belief in witchcraft is widely held in Malawi by people of all levels of education and stature in society. Whereas the law does not accept the reality of witchcraft, the Police and judicial authorities, many of whom share the belief, distort the law to punish those who are accused of witchcraft”
“It is mainly the elderly, men and women, who are accused of witchcraft and there are many very elderly and infirm imprisoned throughout Malawi - sentenced for up to 6 years without anything that would pass as substantive evidence in courts which do not accept superstition and suspicion as adequate."
And from the New York Times:
Accusations of witchcraft in Africa have gained increasing attention because of the severe impact they can have on the lives of those accused, including imprisonment, deprivation of property, banishment from villages and in some cases physical violence.
The human-rights law program I direct recently partnered with an N.G.O. in Malawi to run a mobile legal-aid clinic focusing on witchcraft cases in two rural communities.
Men, women and children flocked to our clinic seeking legal assistance. The cases were challenging and engaged the question of how to confront accusations of witchcraft, particularly when children and elderly women disproportionately bear the brunt of such accusations.
The persecution of accused witches has not historically been confined to Africa. Witch-hunts have occurred in Europe, America, ancient Rome, Aztec Mexico, Russia, China and India. But the practice persists in poor settings in part because witchcraft can be used in communities without routine access to modern medicine and science to explain seemingly inexplicable instances of death and misfortune.