By Charles Pensulo
BLANTYRE, Aug 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Three people have been sentenced to death in Malawi for the murder and mutilation of a person with albinism, a court official confirmed on Wednesday, a sanction the judge said would serve as a strong deterrent.
Malawi is one of the most dangerous countries for people with the condition, who are targeted for ritual killings because of a belief that their body parts can increase wealth.
Douglas Mwale, Sophie Here and Fontino Folosani killed Prescott Pepuzani in 2015, using a metal bar and a hoe handle before chopping off his hands and legs and burying him in Mwale's garden in Mchinji district, Central Malawi.
Passing sentence on Tuesday at the High Court in Mchinji, Judge Esmey Chombo said it would act as a strong deterrent to others and help put an end to the crime.
Another man was sentenced to death in Malawi in May for murdering a teenager with albinism - the first time the death penalty had been handed down in such a case - though he has not been executed.
Malawi operates a moratorium on the death penalty and last carried out an execution in 1992, according to research by Cornell Law School.
The southern African country is home to up to 10,000 people with albinism, a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes.
Their body parts can fetch high sums in an underground trade concentrated in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania.
There have been more than 160 recorded attacks in Malawi including 22 murders since November 2014, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
The government has denied accusations by rights groups that it is doing little to stop the violence.
Overstone Kondowe, who heads the African Union for People with Albinism, said he hoped the sentence would curb the attacks.
"This is really a big step and we want to encourage the Malawi government to continue (with tough penalties)," he said.
"Whether they will really be hanged or not, it's not significant. The public will still get the message."
Kondowe urged the courts to take a similarly tough stance with other pending cases, adding that the murders of people with albinism had fallen in Tanzania, which has imposed the death penalty in similar cases.
(Reporting by Charles Pensulo; Writing by Emma Batha; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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