MINISTER of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo has announced that President Edgar Lungu has commuted the sentences of 246 inmates on death row to life imprisonment, among them former Chilanga member of parliament Keith Mukata.

The inmates whose sentences were commuted are all based at Mukobeko maximum correctional facility and Kabwe female correctional facility; 225 being male while 21 are female.

Speaking at Mukobeko, Wednesday, Kampyongo emphasised that the commutation was given to those who had completed their appeal processes.

“One of the considerations was for all those who have exhausted their appeal process. And if you heard me correctly, that the confirms section where these inmates have been kept was built during the colonial times and it’s a temporal facility. I want you to get that very well that it’s a temporal facility where when inmates are sentenced by the courts to death they are supposed to be kept maybe for even three months before they are executed and so the facility which was meant to hold only about 50 people is now holding more than 450,” he said.

“First of all, the threat to health if those inmates who are held there was the number one consideration. As you heard, that some of them had contracted tuberculosis and now with this COVID-19 which we have started recording in our facilities, the threat was very high. So the consideration was for all those that have exhausted their appeal and they are on death roll.”

He said they were not looking at prominence when selecting which inmates to benefit from the commutation.

“We are not looking at names, you have got prominent names, we as government have got inmates who we look at as inmates. There, you didn’t hear anyone saying prominent names, they were mentioning names of inmates and so they are the same under the law. So the law is blind about what status you have in society. So you find the names and if those prominent names you are asking are there, well and good but I think one of the prominent names, Mr [Mathew] Mohan is here, I saw him today. He was not among the people on that row because I think he is a lifer or something like that. So, he is not among those. So you will get a full list of those whose sentences have been commuted, it’s a public document now, the gazette notice is out,” Kampyongo said.

Meanwhile, Kampyongo said the country had not abolished the death sentence because doing so required a referendum.

“Like I said, world over, there is this campaign to abandon the death sentences and this has taken the centre stage even in the UN and the only reason why Zambia has not been voting on the abolition is because we still have the death sentence on our statutes and our judges have got no choice because it’s still there and until we revisit part 3 of the constitution which requires referendum shall we be able to start…but lucky enough, the constitution itself has provided powers to the President to commute sentences, substitute severe punishments under article 97 of the constitution,” said Kampyongo.

“And like you heard me today I would have been conveying a message of warrants but since 1997, if you look back, how many presidents have we had because if it was only for the courts to sentence and then the executions are done, it would have been a straight forward procedure but even after the sentences have passed, the President is supposed to sign the final warrants of execution.”