Legal experts advise on abolition of death penalty

TANZANIA has been called upon to abolish the mandatory death penalty on account that the punishment is irreversible and courts can and actually make mistakes sometimes and there are chances of committing human errors that could see innocent people executed.

It is thus called upon to alternate to life sentencing to people who commit capital offences to avoid committing errors of innocent people paying for crimes that they did not commit.

The call to that end was made in Dar es Salaam recently at a dialogue to share insights and best practices in East Africa on death penalty convened by the East Africa Law Society, Reprieve UK and the Pan African Legal Empowerment Initiatives.

Speaking earlier during the discussion, retired Justice from the Tanzanian Court of Appeal, Engera Kileo said there are chances of executing innocent people even in developed countries.

“Once it is implemented, you cannot bring back to life the person who has been executed. The death penalty does not save any of the purposes of the criminal law.  Death penalty amounts to an eye for an eye, as it entails punishing by killing,” said the retired Justice.

The former Justice who is well known for her dissenting opinions on death penalty cited the words of the late Tanzanian President John Magufuli who while commuting death sentences of 256 to life imprisonment said “the law says I must hang all 256 of them. But who will be more sinful those convicted of killing one, two or three people or me who is required to kill 256?”

For his part, advocate Fulgence Massawe, the Director of Advocacy and Reform at the Legal and Human Rights Centre echoed the retired Justice attributing his stance to poor investigation as one of the challenges in cases of murder.

“In a country where investigation is so weak for a petty crime, you are likely to convict and sentence very innocent people,” cautioned Massawe.

He cited the case of Tete Kafunja in Tanzania who was sentenced to death simply because he went to bail out his friend from the police station only to be implicated in the murder.

“Sadly, during the hearing, Tete’s friend was acquitted while the court sentenced him to death.  The latter was on death row for 18 years. His case went to the Court of Appeal of Tanzania  for an appeal and he was acquitted as details did not match. Had it been that there were executions, he would have died for a crime that he never committed,” said Massawe.

For her part, Gloria Kalabamu, Tanganyika Law Society Vice President said the death penalty has been controversial because it is a punishment which is irreversible and once you have sentenced somebody you cannot reverse it.

“Monetary compensation can be done but it will not bring back a person who is wrongly accused.  Capital punishment is not a good thing.  Tanzania needs to reconsider the mandatory nature of death sentences under the Penal Code in order to save lives which are innocent sometimes,”” said the Vice-President.

Tanzania still retains the capital punishment in its Penal laws and the last time someone was hanged was in 1994.

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