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Tanzania Arrests 32 Witch Doctors for Albino Murders

FILE - Canadian Peter Ash, who founded the lobbying group Under The Same Sun, holds an albino boy at a school in Tanzania’s Mwanza region in 2009. The International Federation of the Red Cross said albino killings had triggered 'a silent emergency.'

Police in Tanzania said on Friday they had arrested 32 witch doctors this week as part of a campaign against ritual killings of albinos.

Activists say attackers have killed at least 75 albinos in the East African country since 2000 to use their limbs and other body parts as charms meant to guarantee success in love, life and business.

FILE - Participants march toward Mnazi Mmoja grounds during Tanzania Albino Day celebrations in Dar es Salaam.
FILE - Participants march toward Mnazi Mmoja grounds during Tanzania Albino Day celebrations in Dar es Salaam.

President Jakaya Kikwete last week vowed to stamp out the practice he said brought shame onto the east African country, and albino campaigners called on authorities on Friday to execute people convicted of the murders.

“The witch doctors were arrested in possession of different items, including potions and oil from an unknown source,” the police chief in the northwestern town of Geita, Joseph Konyo, told reporters.

He did not say whether they had been charged, or caught with anything relating to albinos, whose condition means they lack pigment in their skin, eyes and hair.

Death penalty possibility

Seventeen people convicted of the murders are currently on death row, including four sentenced to death on Thursday, but Tanzania has not carried out an execution for two decades.

"We want all those convicted of killing persons with albinism to be hanged without delay in order to send a strong message that these attacks will no longer be tolerated," the chairman of the Tanzania Albinism Society [TAS], Ernest Kimaya, told Reuters.

"We made this appeal directly to the president during our meeting with him this week and he expressed his commitment to us that the government will expedite the process of carrying out executions of death row inmates convicted of such killings.”

Elections pose threat

Kimaya said the members feared the attacks, recently on the rise, would become even more frequent in the build-up to October elections, as some politicians turned to witch doctors to try to increase their chance of winning.

"It is true that there is a link between elections and a rise in attacks on persons with albinism. It is something that we are aware of," Kimaya said.

Similar beliefs exist in other African societies about albinos. But activists say attacks are particularly prevalent in Tanzania.

Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe told Reuters the president had to give a written consent for an execution to be carried out.