An HIV-positive Malawian man who said he slept with at least 100 girls and women in traditional cleansing rituals was to be sentenced Tuesday after being convicted of “engaging in harmful practices”.
Eric Aniva was prosecuted on the orders of President Peter Mutharika after publicly speaking about his role as a “hyena” in a BBC documentary.
Custom in some parts of southern Malawi demands that a man, known as a “hyena”, is paid to have sex with bereaved widows to exorcise evil spirits and to prevent other deaths occurring.
At the request of a girl’s parents, the “hyena” is also paid to have sex with adolescent girls to mark their passage to womanhood after their first menstruation.
The ritual, which many Malawians say is rarely practised today, is believed to train girls to become good wives and protect them from disease or misfortune that could fall on their families.
After an international outcry over the documentary, President Mutharika ordered Aniva’s arrest in July.
On Friday, in the first case of its kind, Aniva was found guilty on two counts by magistrate Innocent Nebi after a one-day trial in the district of Nsanje.
The charges, under the gender equality act, involved the ritual of sex with widows as none of the younger girls would testify, according to reports.
At the trial, in front of a packed courtroom, the state produced six witnesses against Aniva, 45, who pleaded not guilty.
– High HIV rates –
The magistrate said the court had concluded that “sexual cleansing violates the dignity of widows”.
State prosecutor Chiyembekezo Banda demanded a long prison sentence for Aniva, saying he was probably responsible for the spread of HIV.
Malawi is one of the worst affected countries in the world, with 27,000 deaths from AIDS-related illnesses and nine percent of the adult population infected with HIV.
Aniva faces a possible five-year jail term, according to the BBC.
Michael Goba Chipeta, Aniva’s defence lawyer, told the court his client should not be jailed.
Chipeta appealed for Aniva to not be used as “a sacrificial lamb”, saying “the publicity he has attracted is punishment enough”.
Before being led by police to his cell, Aniva told AFP: “I am not worried about being convicted. I think I will be given a suspended sentence.”
His second wife Sophia, who was in court on Friday, was in tears and declined to speak to the press.
Aniva said he had slept with at least 104 women and girls, some as young as 12, in a ritual that lasts three days.
He said each family paid him a fee of between $4 and $7.
Source: The Guardian