Tanzania has come under fresh pressure to abolish the death penalty, echoing President John Magufuli’s assertion this past week, that he does not intend to endorse any execution of death row convicts.
Tanzania is one of the 21 countries in the world where the death penalty is still legal.
Dr Magufuli’s predecessor, Jakaya Kikwete, before completion his second term in November 2009, commuted the death sentences of 75 convicts to life imprisonment.
President Benjamin Mkapa did not execute anyone but, Ali Hassan Mwinyi executed one in 1994, and Julius Nyerere two.
Last week, President Magufuli told Chief Justice Prof Ibrahim Juma that he does not even want to look at a list of death convicts requesting his endorsement “because I know how torturing it is.”
Harold Sungusia, a human rights advocate, says that execution by hanging is inhuman and should be abolished.
“Tanzania should abolish the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment,” he said.
Mr Sungusia argued that convicts sentenced to hang are tortured psychologically because of not knowing their execution date.
The national coordinator for Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Mr Onesmo ole Ngurumwa, said: “We support President Magufuli’s decision not to sign any certificate of execution.”
Mr ole Ngurumwa said several people convicted to death by hanging, were later freed on appeal.
“Our legal machinery is not perfect enough to prove beyond reasonable doubt, the guilt of offenders brought before the courts. There are several cases where innocent people have been taken to court,” he added.
Some 465 people were sentenced to death as at 2015, and among these, are 20 women, Tanzania Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance said in a recent report.
The Committee on Constitution and Legal Affairs had in April advised the government to review the death penalty to allow death row prisoners who have been in prison for long to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
Mr Rashid Shangazi, the committee chairman, said his team recommended for review of this form of punishment because delays in executions not only affect death row prisoners, but also contravene the very human rights covenants that Tanzania has signed up to.
The Minister for Constitution and Legal Affairs, Prof Palamagamba Kabudi said Tanzania would work out the issues raised by parliament.
The Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC) had said in its report that a death sentence is the most serious punishment that can be imposed on an offender convicted of a capital offence, notably murder, treason and any other grave offences as specified in the Penal Code, Cap 16 of the laws of Tanzania.
Dr Hellen Kijo-Bisimba, the LHRC executive director, commended the president for his stance, but demanded that he goes further and abolishes the death penalty.
Despite pressure from lawmakers and activists calling for the killers of people living with albinism to be hanged, President Kikwete did not sign their execution.
In Zanzibar, the Penal Decree Act provides the death penalty for murder.
Tanzania has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 1976 and also ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1984 and the Protocol to the African Charter on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2006.