Human rights groups are expressing grave concern at the news that the Zimbabwean prison service has employed a hangman. Currently there are believed to be 74 men and two women on death row. Zimbabwe’s last hangman retired in 2005.

Noel Kututwa, Amnesty International’s Southern Africa director, said in a statement, “This macabre recruitment is disturbing and suggests that Zimbabwe does not want to join the global trend towards abolition of this cruel, inhuman and degrading form of punishment.”

A Catholic spokesman in Harare said it was commonly understood that in 1988, during the visit of Pope John Paul II to Zimbabwe, President Mugabe had made a pledge to end the death penalty. 

The current draft of Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which is due to be put to a referendum later this year exempts women and men under 21 or more than 70 from the death penalty.