AI, a non-governmental organisation focused on human rights, said the move was a "laudable first step" and a "triumph" for the right to life. Lungu on Thursday reduced the sentences of the death row inmates to life imprisonment so as "to ease maximum security prison congestion", according to a Reuters report. Crimes that could be punishable by death include murder, treason and robbery with a deadly weapon, although Zambia has not executed any prisoners since 1997. Lungu said during a visit to Mukobeko Maximum Security prison, about 180km north of Lusaka, that it was unacceptable for a prison with a capacity of 51 inmates to house hundreds.
"It goes without saying that this is an affront to basic human dignity apart from the health and sanitation challenges that it has created," Lungu was quoted as saying. AI urged Lungu to abolish the death penalty completely , saying it violated the right to life. The group said there was no evidence that the death penalty deterred crime more than other forms of punishment. "President Edgar Lungu has taken a very progressive step by deciding to spare these 332 people the death penalty, the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. We commend him for this decision, but he must do more and totally abolish the death penalty in the country," AI's director for Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said.
Muchena added: "Zambia must build on its own achievements and join other countries around the world that are moving away from using the death penalty. Governments that are continuing to use death penalty thinking that it will reduce crime are only misleading themselves."
Sub-Saharan Africa saw progress in the reduction of executions in 2014. Satistics show that at least 46 executions were recorded in three countries compared to 64 executions in five countries in 2013 – a drop of 28%.
Madagascar became this year the 99th country to have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and was shortly followed suit by Fiji and Suriname.