Those who say we live in such a different world that no one goes on trial for witchcraft anymore should take into consideration the accusation of eighty people who are being prosecuted for what many human rights advocates say is an impossibly outdated and unfortunate crime. But these witches may actually face execution or imprisonment if the courts accusing them have their way.
Witchcraft or ‘Wicca’ is largely accepted worldwide in ways that would have gotten practitioners hung or stoned centuries ago, but some parts of the world still consider its practice to be an unforgivable crime. In Malawian court, where the witches have been tried, 61 elderly women, 12 children, and 7 men are being currently held on no more than the suspicion of practicing witchcraft in their own homes. And the trials are largely themselves illegal as witchcraft is not a crime in the republic of Malawi where they are being held.
The majority of those accused are threatened to face time in labor camps – which have harsh conditions and a high death rate due to over work. And the elderly accused are not expected to last long if this is the case. And while Malawi is a republic, deeply rooted fears of witches make this conservative and religious country comparable in some ways to other areas at points of history where witches (and suspected witches) were executed.
There is a move to retroactively make the religion illegal according to authorities in Malawi where a committee has been formed to make it illegal. And in a country where accused can be put away for things that are not even yet crimes, this does not entirely seem unlikely.
The accused and their representatives, when asked about the trials themselves labeled them a mockery where they were given little to no partiality and saw their most basic rights trod upon by the courts who are accused of appealing to political pressures rather than justice by human rights advocates. Malawi is a country located in the southeastern portion of Africa with a population of 13,000,000. Since its population is more than 80% conservative Christian, there is a strong opposition to witchcraft, but this is not the only factor contributing to the trials. The government had one president until 1993 when then leader Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda agreed to give up his lifelong presidency for a new electoral system. And as the political climate began shifting more regularly it became apparent that the president would have to respond more to the will of the people. So will the current president Bingu Wa Mutharika grant those accused a pardon and ensure the validity of the government’s judicial process? Or will he allow these accused witches to be imprisoned and likely die under harsh labor conditions? Only time will tell.
Even if those accused are allowed to go free, they will likely face ostracization and shunning by the majority. A harsh reality for freedom of religion worldwide.