Tanzania Must Release Lemi Lembu, a Victim of Brutal Sexual Violence Living with Intellectual Disability on Tanzania’s Death Row

Sign Lemi’s Petition Here

March 8, 2024

Today, on International Women’s Day, we are calling on President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania to immediately commute Lemi Lembu’s death sentence and release her from prison. Lemi is a survivor of repeated sexual violence and intimate partner violence, beginning when she was a child. Her abusive partner, who was responsible for the death of Lemi’s own child, has never been brought to justice. The court that sentenced her to die refused to consider testimony of an expert on intellectual disability, and sentenced her to death in a trial that failed to meet the most minimum guarantees of due process. The eyes of the world must be on this case.

Here, we share Lemi’s story. The courts in Tanzania have never heard these facts, because under the law in Tanzania, a person’s life story is considered irrelevant in determining punishment. Lemi’s case illustrates the cruelty of Tanzania’s death penalty and the need for urgent reform.

Lemi grew up working on her parents’ farm. She received no formal education. To this day, she has limited functioning: Lemi cannot name the days of the week, remember the full names of her family members, or even estimate how old she is.

From the time she was born, Lemi experienced violence. Her father beat her mother, who eventually fled her marriage with her children in tow. As a girl, men in Lemi’s village would drag her out of her family home to rape her. She was unable to resist or to consent to intercourse because of her disability. This violence was compounded by the abuse Lemi suffered at home, where her mother would often beat her for failing to follow instructions. These beatings did not stop until the family’s neighbors warned Lemi’s mother that she could kill her child. Lemi was shunned by other villagers because of her disability. Her only friends were young children, whom she continued to play with as she got older.

Lemi was just fifteen when she gave birth to her first child, making this pregnancy the product of rape under Tanzanian law. At the time, Lemi did not understand that sexual activity could lead to pregnancy. Furthermore, she did not understand that she herself was pregnant until her mother explained it to her.

When she was still a teenager, Lemi married an older man named Maimazi who beat and terrorized her. Lemi gave birth to two more children. She remained trapped in her marriage, unable to escape Maimazi’s violence, until her father helped her flee the village where the couple lived.

Lemi moved to a new village close to family. Although she was free of Maimazi, she struggled to provide for her children. One day, a man named Kijiji Nyamagu approached her. Other villagers tended to avoid Kijiji. He was often drunk, and they knew he was trouble. That same day, Kijiji told Lemi he wanted to marry her. Kijiji persuaded Lemi to leave her house and bring her youngest daughter, Tabu, with her. Lemi later explained that she “did what Kijiji taught her.” Then Kijiji killed her daughter. Kijiji had already run away by the time Lemi brought the authorities to her daughter’s body. He was never arrested or even questioned.

Authorities arrested Lemi on August 26, 2011. The police interrogated her and wrote a “statement” for her to sign, but as Lemi is illiterate, she could not read it. At trial, she was swiftly convicted and sentenced to die. In 2018, her conviction was reversed on technical grounds, but she was again convicted and sentenced to death. As of today, Lemi has been incarcerated for more than 12 years.

Two psychologists have determined that Lemi has an intellectual disability characterized by physical, cognitive, and behavioral impairment. She has the developmental age of a ten-year-old. In prison, Lemi struggles to understand what has happened to her. She receives no accommodations for her disability.

The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide calls on the international community to act. President Hassan has the power to commute Lemi’s sentence immediately. Please join us in asking her to exercise this power to rectify a terrible injustice.

Sign our petition to President Suluhu