REPORT released yesterday by the Death Penalty Project in conjunction with legal think-tank Veritas has revealed that 90% of Zimbabweans were against the death penalty and wanted it abolished.
BY VENERANDA LANGA/LORRAINE MUROMO
The report titled Time to Abolish the Death Penalty in Zimbabwe: Exploring the views of its Opinion Leaders, whose research methods were designed and analysed by Oxford University professor Carolyn Hoyle and interviews carried out by the Mass Public Opinion Institute, also revealed that 60% of respondents believed that innocent people have been sentenced to death.
The research methodology included interviews with 42 opinion leaders in the fields of politics, public service, law, religion, civil society, academia and defence.
“The main finding indicates that 90% of those interviewed supported abolition of the death penalty,” Veritas said in a statement.
“On the opinion leaders trust of the justice system, 64% did not trust the criminal justice system to prevent miscarriage of justice, 79% believed wrongful convictions occur and 60% believed that innocent people have been sentenced to death.”
The report also states that 90% of respondents saw the death penalty as an abuse of human rights or against their religious beliefs; 64% believed retention of the death penalty had damaged the country’s international reputation, and 69% believed that the death penalty did not deter violent crime.
The last execution in Zimbabwe was carried out in July 2005 and approximately 81 inmates remain on death row.
Lobbyists that want the death penalty abolished have suggested that death sentences should be commuted to life sentences, adding that death row inmates suffered a lot of emotional stress as they awaited their execution for several years.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa is one of those that strongly oppose the death penalty after he was nearly executed during the liberation struggle and was only saved by being underage.
Endorsing the project, Mnangagwa emphasised the importance of respecting the sanctity of human life.
“Most Zimbabweans know that the death penalty is a subject on which I feel deeply. As I have said in the past, I believe it to be a flagrant violation of the right to life and dignity,” he said.
“I welcome this report, which shows that almost all Zimbabwean opinion formers are of the same mind, in that they wish to see the death penalty abolished. This report, and the research on which it is based, follows upon a wider survey conducted in 2017, which revealed that only a small majority of our citizens are in favour of keeping the death penalty, and that out of those who favour it, 80% will be prepared to go along with abolition if the government so decides.”
Zimbabwe is currently considered to be a de facto abolitionist by the United Nations.
While the new Constitution adopted in 2013 failed to abolish the death penalty, it narrowed its scope and imposed restrictions on its use.
The new Constitution also abolished the death penalty for young people up to and including the age of 21 at the time of commission of the crime, and for people aged 70 and over, and all women.
Currently, Parliament is debating a motion on abolition of the death penalty.
The motion has attracted mixed views from MPs. Although a majority of MPs want the death penalty abolished, those whose relatives were gruesomely murdered were in support of the death penalty.