The Chairman of the Organization of African Unity, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, has asked Malawi's president to grant clemency to the parents of a Hyattsville woman who have been convicted of treason and sentenced to hang.
Florence Simfukwe expressed gratitude when told Tuesday of Moi's intercession on behalf of her parents, Orton and Vera Chirwa, and said she is hoping that international appeals will help.
The reaction of Malawi President-for-Life Hastings K. Banda to Moi's appeal could not be learned and it was also unknown whether an execution date has been set.
The Chirwas, who led a Malawi opposition party outside the country, were found guilty of treason and sentenced by a Malawian court May 5. They have appealed the sentence.
"The more people write, the better, especially the heads of state. I really appreciate the concern they have for human rights," said Simfukwe, a 42-year-old widow who has been in the U.S. 13 years and supports her three sons by working as a nurse at Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington.
Moi took the unusual step in his capacity as OAU chairman in a May 16 letter to President Banda, according to reports in the Kenya press. African leaders, sensitive to charges of intervention in the internal affairs of the OAU member states, infrequently make public pleas for clemency in domestic political cases.
The Kenya Times, a publication of Moi's ruling party, reported that Moi wrote Banda after receiving an appeal to help the Chirwas from the World Young Women's Christian Association, the international umbrella group of YWCAs. Moi acknowledged in his letter to Banda that the Chirwas were given due process of law in Malawian courts, but he requested that Banda spare their lives on humanitarian grounds, the newspaper said.
Legal observers here say that Malawian traditional courts, in which the Chirwas were tried, do not meet international legal standards of due process.
Chirwa, 64, and his wife, 51, both well-known lawyers, were active in Malawi's independence struggle against Great Britain two decades ago. Chirwa served as Malawi's first Attorney General and Justice Minister before a falling out with Banda that forced him into exile.