Home Opinion Featured Articles ‘Witchcraft’ and Court System in Tanzania

‘Witchcraft’ and Court System in Tanzania

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The Advocacy for Alleged Witches welcomes the discharge of six persons convicted and jailed for five years for practicing witchcraft in Tanzania. As reported, Justice Abubakar Mirsha disallowed an appeal lodged by Silvanus Siwaloza, Wilbroad Edward alias Masenga, Helena Matengo, Richard Chakupewa, John Anastazio, alias Sumumi, and Linus Sangu alia Sikanda challenging their sentencing by a district court on November 8, 2022. Justice Mirsha quashed the sentence by a lower court on procedural grounds. He claimed that the district court lacked the jurisdiction to hear and determine the case because the zonal attorney general did not consent to the hearing: “Since the consent of the attorney is a prerequisite requirement to be complied with before the trial begins, and the trial court proceeded with the hearing and determination of the appellant’s case in the absence of the consent of the attorney or the Zonal State Attorney in Charge, as prescribed under Section 5(3) of the Act, it is my considered opinion that the trial court could not assume jurisdiction for trying the offence involving witchcraft without obtaining such consent because, by doing so, the proceedings of the trial court were a nullity.” Justice Mirsha is quoted to have said.

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches applauds Justice Mirsha for his bold and courageous decision, for pointing out this fundamental error and nullifying the conviction of the accused. AfAW salutes him for ensuring justice for the accused, and for vindicating the innocent. Justice Mishra’s pronouncement signals hope for alleged witches who are persecuted, prosecuted, or convicted in Tanzania and across the region. The ruling is another indication that there is some light at the end of the dark tunnel of witch persecution and witch hunting in the region. That the injustice of witchcraft accusations could be rectified. That the wrongful conviction of alleged witches could eventually be nullified.

AfAW urges other judges and magistrates in Tanzania and across other African countries to emulate Justice Mishra and refrain from such errors of judgment and other procedural missteps that often lead to the conviction and sentencing of innocent people accused of witchcraft. Courts should stop caving into fear, intimidation, and pressure from witchcraft accusers and the witch-hunting mob. Courts should endeavor to uphold justice and the rule of law without fear of witchcraft, witches, or witch-believing folks.

In addition, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches states that there is nothing like ‘practicing witchcraft’ as contained in the charge and as popularly believed in Tanzania and other parts of the region. The so-called witchcraft act is imaginary and exists in the minds of believers. Nobody performs witchcraft act. Nobody engages in witchcraft. Witchcraft is a form of superstition and supposition. Nobody commits the crime of witchcraft. Witchcraft is a term rooted in the Western anthropological misrepresentation and misinterpretation of African traditional religious beliefs and practices. Witchcraft is a mischaracterization of people’s actions and behaviors.

Beyond pointing out the procedural errors and quashing the sentencing of the accused as seen in the case from Tanzania, African judges, magistrates, and other court officials should use their positions to educate and enlighten the people. Many Africans believe in witchcraft and persecute the accused due to fear and ignorance. African judges should make it clear to people who bring cases of ‘witchcraft’ to courts that there is no evidence for witchcraft, and those who accuse people of witchcraft are liable.

Leo Igwe directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches, which works and campaigns to end witch hunting in Africa by 2030

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