Cover image via AFP

An HIV-positive Malawian man who said he had sex with at least 100 girls and women in traditional cleansing rituals was sentenced today to two years in jail for “harmful practises”.

Eric Aniva was prosecuted on the orders of President Peter Mutharika after publicly speaking about his role as a “hyena” in a BBC radio documentary earlier this year.

“I convict you to serve 24 months’ imprisonment,” judge Innocent Nebi told Aniva in a packed courtroom in the remote southern district of Nsanje.

On Friday, in the first case of its kind, Aniva was found guilty on two charges after a one-day trial.

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.

Aniva, who pleaded not guilty, told AFP immediately after the sentence: “I am disappointed because I thought I would be given a suspended sentence.”

The charges, under the gender equality act, involved the ritual of sex with widows as none of the younger girls would testify.

“The convict had no regard to the feelings of widows, no regard to dignity of women and it is even doubtful that condoms were used,” the judge said. “Such a culture has no place in Malawi.”

After an international outcry over the documentary, President Mutharika ordered Aniva’s arrest in July.

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