The appointment of a new hangman in Zimbabwe does not mean the 74 men and two women on death row will be executed.

Zimbabwe filled the job of hangman last year, the head of the prison service recently revealed, after struggling to find a replacement since 2005, despite repeated advertisements in the local press.

Rights groups are concerned the appointment could lead to the resumption of executions in the southern African state. Zimbabwe’s last execution was carried out by hanging in 2003.

“As for the 76 inmates languishing in prison, there was no way I, as the Minister of Justice, was going to recommend their execution. We could have done that long back, but I was going to seek for clemency,” Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the state-run Herald newspaper.

The cabinet would discuss each prisoner’s case and make recommendations to President Robert Mugabe who has the power to alter the death sentence to life imprisonment, he said.

Zimbabwe is set to adopt a new constitution this year that limits capital punishment only to men aged between 21 and 70. It will also only be considered in cases of “aggravated murder”, the most violent cases.

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