Death Penalty Abolition Bill to save 65 convicts

Source: The Herald – Breaking news.

Death Penalty Abolition Bill to save 65 convicts 
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said experience had shown that capital punishment has not helped in reducing the offence of murder.

Zvamaida Murwira-Senior Reporter

The Death Penalty Abolition Bill, currently before Parliament, is set to save more than 65 convicts facing the gallows, as the Government takes bold steps to remove capital punishment from the statutes.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said experience had shown that capital punishment has not helped in reducing the offence of murder.

Minister Ziyambi said this last Thursday during debate on the Death Penalty Abolishment Bill in the National Assembly. 

“While our people may, in principle, favour the death penalty for extreme crimes, in practice, they are hesitant to see it carried out as shown by the fact that we have more than 60 prisoners on death row as we speak and some of them have been waiting for years to be executed,” he said.

“Let me add that some of them are under sentence of death for crimes that are less serious than those of other prisoners who have been sentenced to imprisonment instead of death. Our judges are human, so even when they find that a crime has been committed in aggravating circumstances, they prefer to sentence the offender to 20 years or life instead of death.”

He said there will be amendments in the Bill to ensure mandatory sentence of up to life imprisonment of murder resulting from any act of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism.

Other offences will include murder resulting from the rape or other sexual assault of the victim, loss of life resulting from kidnapping or illegal detention, robbery, hijacking, piracy or escaping from lawful custody among other offences.

It will also include murder that is premeditated, murder of a police officer or prison officer among others.

Minister Ziyambi said death penalty was inhumane.

“I do not want to judge other countries that apply the death penalty, but I ask you Hon, Members, to recall, when did we last execute anyone? Can anyone even remember? Many of us advocate for the death penalty, but I assure you there is hardly a person in our country who would seek a job as a professional executioner, however high the reward. Hapana anoda kuita hangman kuti unomuka uchienda kubasa woudza vana kuti ndichambonouraya vanhu,” he said.

“It inflicts psychological torment, not only on the person to be executed, but often even on the people involved somehow with the execution.”

He said during debate on the Bill in Cabinet, President Mnangagwa gave heart ranging narration of his experience in prison when he was jailed for his political involvement in the liberation of the country.

“His Excellency, our President, Dr Mnangagwa said that upon execution of the comrades who were on death row, they were given a wheelbarrow with their comrade and told to bury him and then plant lawn, irrigate it so that it could grow. Imagine the psychological trauma that they went through and this is the reason why we are saying, why do we need as a nation such an inhumane treatment to others,” he said.

He said capital punishment did not deter crime neither did it address the root cause.

“History will tell you that the majority of people that have been executed are those in a struggle or in poverty. So, it is biased against those that society must protect,” he said. “Even in our country, the death penalty has a racial bias. When was a white person last executed in our country? If I am not mistaken, the last white person actually sentenced to death and awaiting imminent execution, cheated the hangman by committing suicide in death row in 1978. 

“Lastly, let us not forget that the death penalty is irreversible. Our police, prosecutors, judges and witnesses are human beings who make mistakes. Once someone has been executed and when you realise there was a mistake, you cannot restore that life back.”

He said death penalty was disheartening in that it is a method used on farms to euthanise pigs for human consumption.

This, he said, is what had been legislated and practiced in two states of the United States.

“In 2015, the State of Oklahoma passed a law to allow nitrogen gas poisoning or nitrogen-induced hypoxia as a method of execution following difficulties in obtaining the drugs necessary for lethal injection. In January this year, Alabama, a US State with 165 people on death row, carried out the first ever execution by nitrogen hypoxia. The convict in question was killed through an experimental technique that pumps pure nitrogen gas into a person’s lungs instead of the regular air that has the oxygen humans need to breathe,” he said.

“N long before this, in 2020, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) issued Guidelines for the euthanasian of animals, in which it recommended giving animals including pigs, a sedative before they are euthanised by means of nitrogen hypoxia. 

The Alabama authorities did not even follow this recommendation when it smothered the awake and alert convict with nitrogen and they still have 165 prisoners left to execute.”

Several legislators spoke against death penalty and called for it to be abolished.