Lilongwe, 6 April 2011 (IRIN) – At least 45 people are behind bars in Malawi on charges of witchcraft, although there is nothing in the country’s laws to keep them there.
“The beliefs of the police and courts are becoming the law,” George Thindwa, director of the Association for Secular Humanism (ASH), a local NGO, told IRIN. “The police are keeping people who have been accused of being witches, when it is actually the accusers that need to be taken to task.”
Elderly women are most commonly accused of witchcraft, but people of all ages have been ostracized, jailed, attacked and even killed on suspicion of being witches.
Chigayo Tchale, 75, has served almost two years of a three-year sentence at Maula prison in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. The community where he lived accused him of practicing witchcraft after the unexplained death of a child.
“Since people are saying I’m a witch and should be in prison, it is up to them,” he said with a shrug. “There’s nothing I can do, I have been forsaken.”
ASH has been campaigning for Tchale’s release for months now, along with dozens of other people across the country wrongfully imprisoned because they were suspected of being witches.