Jurists seek inquiry into death of Malawi opposition leader

The ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers is seeking an investigation into the death of Orton Chirwa, a pro-democracy activist and Malawi’s first Minister of Justice, who had been imprisoned since 1981.

Mr. Chirwa was a founder of the Malawi Freedom Movement, which was opposed to the rule of President for Life Hastings Kamuzu Banda. He and his wife Vera – both of them lawyers admitted to the British bar – had been living in exile in Tanzania when they were kidnapped by Malawi agents in December 1981. They were tried for treason and sentenced to death in May 1983. However, after an international outcry their sentences were commuted to life in prison in June 1984.

The ICJ had denounced the arrests and had frequently called for the release of Mr. and Mrs. Chirwa. Two months ago the CIJL reported that their health had deteriorated in prison.

Mr. Chirwa died Tuesday. The ICJ and CIJL are requesting an independent post-mortem into Mr. Chirwa’s death as well as the immediate release of Mrs. Chirwa.

“President Banda and his government must take complete responsibility for the death of Orton Chirwa,” ICJ Secretary-General Adama Dieng said. “Let us hope that they will now have the compassion and the integrity to release Vera Chirwa.”

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