By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Tanzanian court has charged four people over the murder of an albino woman over six years ago as pressure mounts for authorities in the east African country to do more to stop the killing of albinos whose body parts are prized in black magic.
Ezron Mwasimba, public prosecutor in the high court in northern Mwanza city, said the four were accused of killing 22-year-old Zawadi Magindu at Nyamalulu village in Geita in November 2008 and cutting off her legs and one arm.
They pleaded not guilty on Thursday with the hearing to continue next week.
The trial is the first of its kind to be held in the Geita region where six albinos were killed and three wounded between 2007 and 2012, according to police data. It is expected to be closely followed by local residents and campaigners.
"We have gathered compelling evidence against the accused persons including from members of the bereaved family who had identified them," Mwasimba told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The charges come as members of Tanzania's albino society prepare to hold nationwide protests next week to call on the government to take more action to stop attacks.
There are fears of more murders ahead of an election later this year because of the risk that some politicians could turn to witchcraft to improve their chances.
The demonstrations have been triggered by the abduction and suspected murder of two albino children in the past two months.
One-year-old Yohana Bahati was snatched by armed men from his home in the northwestern Geita region earlier this month and his body found days later with his limbs severed.
A four-year-old albino girl was abducted in December by an armed gang from her home at Ndami village in Mwanza region. She is still missing but 14 people have now been arrested.
At least 75 albinos, who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes, have been murdered in Tanzania in the past 15 years, according to U.N. figures, many hacked to death and body parts removed to make spells that witch doctors claim bring good luck.
Witch doctors will pay as much as $75,000 for a full set of body parts from an albino, according to a Red Cross report.
Albinos face attack in many parts of Africa, but kidnappings, attacks and killings are more common in Tanzania and the government last month announced a nationwide ban on witch doctors to try to stem the violence.
United Nations human rights officials have voiced concerns that despite the number of murders, trials are rare with only five successful prosecutions since 2000.
The Tanzania Albino Society called on the government to speed up prosecutions.
"We would like to see those who are convicted for murdering people with albinism hanged to deter others from carrying out such acts, but that is not happening," said the group's chairman Ernest Kimanya.
Albinism is a congenital disorder which affects about one in 20,000 people worldwide, according to medical authorities. It is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and affects an estimated one Tanzanian in 1,400.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)