Malawi|Advocacy Groups Call for Release of 2 Gay Prisoners
UPDATE 17 March 2010
AP reports that Malawi church leaders meet on gay rights just days ahead of the March 22nd sentencing scheduled for Monjeza and Chimbalanga.
Several advocacy groups continue their call for the release of Gay Malawains Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga.
Malawains Steven Monjeza (age 26) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (age 20) were arrested on December 28, 2009, one day after Monjeza's and Chimbalanga's traditional engagement. Monjeza and Chimbalanga are accused of violating Sections 153 and 156 of the Malawi Penal Code ("unnatural offenses" and "indecent practices between males"). Section 153 carries a potential sentence of up to 14 years in prison, while Section 156 carries a potential 5 year prison term.
The Court has denied bail to Monjeza and Chimbalanga, citing "fear that the public will be hostile against them" as justification for their ongoing incarceration. As their defenders have argued, however, a continued stay in prison instead exposes them to more abuse and the violation of their fundamental rights at the hands of fellow inmates and jailers.
The arrests and subsequent mistreatment of Monjeza and Chimbalanga violate their constitutional rights to equality (Article 20), to freedom of association, conscience, opinion, and expression (Articles 32-35), and to the enjoyment of a cultural life of one's choice (Article 26). The arrests also violate Malawi's international human rights commitments, including the rights to privacy and non-discrimination that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees to all regardless of sexual orientation, as well as the rights to equality, dignity, security and life in the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Articles 3-6). The Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, a document signed by several respected African jurists, states that governments must "repeal criminal…provisions that prohibit…consensual sexual activity among people of the same sex" to ensure all people's rights to equality and non-discrimination (Principle 2). The lives of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga must be respected without discrimination, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Reports indicate that the prosecution sought to further humiliate the two by subjecting them to internal medical examinations to confirm the sodomy charges without their consent. Such examinations cannot be allowed as they are in direct violation of Malawi's Constitution, including the right to dignity (Article 19), which states that no person shall be subject to degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to privacy (Article 21), which includes the right not to be subject to search of one's person.
Claims are made that arrests of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga create climate of fear and intimidation in Malawai.
These arrests create a climate of fear in Malawi and intimidate human rights advocates, negating the progress made in the National Aids Strategy to stem the spread of HIV and AIDS by targeting outreach efforts at men who have sex with men (MSM). This persecution stifles the voices of sexual minorities and makes it difficult or impossible to provide effective HIV/AIDS prevention, outreach, and treatment, setting a dangerous precedent for fundamental human rights and public health in Malawi.
On March 8, 2010, Peter Tatchell of the London-based LGBT human rights group, "Outrage!", called on Amnesty International to recognize Monjeza and Chimbalanga as Prisoners of Conscience ahead of their trial verdict scheduled for March 22, 2010.
The group's campaign coordinator, Peter Tatchell, has written to the Director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen. He wrote to Allen:"We urge Amnesty International to adopt Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga as Prisoners of Conscience...Everyone is very appreciative of the statement that Amnesty has already issued, which deplores the men's arrest and calls for their release. We are now hoping that Amnesty will go one step further and recognise them as Prisoners of Conscience."
"OutRage! has made the appeal for Prisoner of Conscience status following a request for help from Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga. The two men have asked me and others to increase Malawian and international pressure to secure the dropping of all charges and their immediate release.
"Adoption by Amnesty as Prisoners of Conscience would be a great morale boost for Tiwonge and Steven. It might also help encourage a less harsh sentence, if they are found guilty when their trial verdict is announced on 22 Ma[r]ch. They face a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment," said Tatchell.
Watch Video of Monjez and Chimbalanga at the courthouse in January 2010 and commentary by Vincent Kondowe, University of Malawi (guardian.co.uk) »
Join the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in calling upon the Malawi Government to release Monjeza and Chimbalanga and end arrests and discrimination against LGBT people.