After the post lay vacant despite being advertised for 12 years, Zimbabwe has appointed a new hangman.

The appointment has prompted serious fears that the country could begin to execute the 76 inmates currently on death row after a seven-year hiatus.

Since the last hangman retired in 2005, Zimbabwe has not executed any prisoners, but the post is believed to have been filled by a Malawian, according to Zimbabwe's The Herald. An estimated 74 men and two women are believed to be on death row.

death penalty

Prison Service Commissioner Paradzai Zimondi told journalists that the position had been filled in mid-2012 while showing them around Harare Remand Prison.

"Indeed, we now have a hangman but these people are still to be executed. In fact, no-one has been executed in the past 12 years."

In a new draft of Zimbabwe's constitution, women, and men under 21 or more than 70, are exempt from the death penalty.

It is due to be put to a referendum in the next few months, and human rights groups have been lobbying for its total abolition.

Amnesty International southern Africa director Noel Kututwa said: “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.

“The death penalty is a violation of the right to life which is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe is a state party.

“The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state.

“We oppose the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner.”

Zimondi said Zimbabwe’s prisons were holding 16 902 inmates, 587 of these were women and 124 were juveniles. He mentioned that 69 babies were staying with their mothers in different prisons across Zimbabwe.

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  • Prisoners at Harare Remand Prison are seen during a media tour of the Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The tour, organised by the Zimbabwean Prison Service was aimed at showing the media the living conditions of Prisoners in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

  • Prisoners at Harare Remand Prison are seen during a media tour of the Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The tour, organised by the Zimbabwean Prison Service was aimed at showing the media the living conditions of Prisoners in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

  • Prisoners at Harare Remand Prison are seen during a media tour of the Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The tour, organised by the Zimbabwean Prison Service was aimed at showing the media the living conditions of Prisoners in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

  • Prisoners at Harare Remand Prison are seen during a media tour of the Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The tour, organised by the Zimbabwean Prison Service was aimed at showing the media the living conditions of Prisoners in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

  • Prisoners at Harare Remand Prison are seen during a media tour of the Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The tour, organised by the Zimbabwean Prison Service was aimed at showing the media the living conditions of Prisoners in Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)