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Human rights activists in Tanzania fight to abolish death penalty

By: Roohi Sahajpal

DAR ES SALAAM – Today, human rights activists around the world commemorate the 11th annual World Day Against the Death Penalty. Tanzania is one of the 21 countries around the world where the death penalty is still legal. But unlike many countries where people continue to be executed, there has been a de facto moratorium on executions since 1994.

On October 9, 2013, the Legal Human Rights Centre (LHRC), along with the Tanganyika Law Society  and the SAHRINGON Tanzania Chapter began a preliminary hearing with the High Court about their case of challenging capital punishment in Tanzania. The case was launched in 2008 and the groups are asking the government to remove the section in the draft constitution that implements the death penalty because it denies one’s right to life. In place of the death penalty, they want people convicted of murder to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Executive Director of the Legal Human Rights Centre in Dar es Salaam. Dr. Hellen Kijo-Bisimba (center) and other members are urging the Tanzanian government to scrap the death penalty in the new constitution.

Executive Director of the Legal Human Rights Centre in Dar es Salaam. Dr. Hellen Kijo-Bisimba (center) and other members are urging the Tanzanian government to scrap the death penalty in the new constitution.

The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania guarantees the right to life, but the right to life continues to be violated through laws imposing the death penalty. As of 2010, an estimated 233 people in Tanzania were on death row.  Most recently, three villagers in the Tabora region of  northwest Tanzania were sentenced to death after being convicted of murder.

Michael Lembeli, is a prisoner  lucky enough to be acquitted of the charges keeping him on death row. He was released in 2009, after serving14 years on death row because of charges fabricated by the police. His experience echoes that of the hundreds awaiting their fate.

“Imagine if it were you waiting to be hanged to death year after year how would you feel? It is evident that the only thing that goes on in your mind would be dying and nothing more…At the end of the day you may simply pray for the punishment to be executed so that you can perish from this world.”  he told the Legal Human Rights Centre in their 2012 Report.

Dr. Helen Kijo-Bisimba, Executive Director of the Legal Human Rights Centre said that human rights activists are playing a major role in making sure that the right to life is protected in the new constitution.

“We need to abolish this penalty due to the fact that it has failed to stop crimes that are subjected to such punishment,” she said.

 

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