Following the commutation of the death sentences of 53 prisoners to custodial sentences by the President of Zambia, Amnesty International renewed its call for the government to join the worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.
“We are encouraged by the commutation of these sentences by President Banda. The next move should be to take all the necessary steps to end capital punishment and bring about legislative changes to abolish the death penalty in Zambia” said Amy Agnew, Amnesty International’s Zambia campaigner.
The decision to commute the death sentences was announced by the Vice-President, George Kunda, in a statement released in the capital Lusaka on Tuesday.
"His excellency the President, Rupiah Bwezani Banda, has pardoned and commuted sentences of 53 prisoners on death row at Mukobeko prison, Kabwe, to terminable custodial sentences or life imprisonment pursuant to Article 59 of the Republican Constitution," Mr Kunda was reported to have said.
Article 59 of the constitution states that the President may inter alia "substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed on any person for any offence."
In Zambia, the death penalty is provided for under various offences. Despite the fact that Zambia has not executed anybody since 1997, it unfortunately did not vote in favour of UN General Assembly resolution 63/168, in December 2008, calling for a moratorium on executions.
In August, 2007, President Mwanawasa commuted the death sentences of 97 prisoners who were on death row to life imprisonment.
As of today, 138 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. The continent of Africa is largely free of executions, with only seven of the 53 African Union member states known to have carried out executions in 2007: Botswana, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.