December 20, 2003

"44 Coup Plotters" to be executed?

The Supreme Court upheld the death sentences for 44 soldiers for their role in a failed coup 1997. The 54 soldiers were charged with forming a private army and attempting to overthrow the former head of state, Frederick Chiluba. Now, 44 soldiers were found guilty of treason by the High Court and were sentenced to death by hanging, but they immediately appealed to the Supreme Court. In their appeal against the ruling, they argued that they were caught up in the coup unintentionally. During the trial, Capt. Lungu, known as Solo, confessed to being the mastermind of the coup plot and begged for forgiveness. He was however adamant that he was right to try to overthrow Chiluba and his government because it was riddled with corruption. He had also urged the Supreme Court to free all but himself and one other, saying they were just following orders.

The death sentences have led to a number of protests from national and international human rights groups. Mr Mwanagiti, the head of the African Network for Human Rights and Development (Afronet), said, that the Supreme Court's hands were tied by Zambian law, and that had to be changed. Under Article 59 of the Zambian Constitution, it is only the President who has the prerogative to pardon a convicted person or to reduce the sentence.

In general, a number of steps towards the abolition of the death penalty across Southern Africa have been made in recent years. Angola, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa have all abolished the death penalty. In addition the President of Malawi has given an undertaking not to authorize any executions as long as he is in office. (The Times of Zambia, Lusaka/Rts)

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