Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika will purportedly participate in a traditional engagement ceremony on Valentine’s Day with the lovely woman he has been seen escorting of late. I wish him all the happiness in the world. But at the same time Mutharika looks forward to sharing his life with the person of his choice, two men remain jailed in Malawi because they tried to do the same.
At the end of December 2009, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were arrested following their participation in a traditional engagement ceremony. They are currently on trial for “unnatural practices between males” and “gross public indecency.” They remain imprisoned after being denied bail, purportedly for their own safety, and face public ridicule when appearing in court. They have applied for relief to the Constitutional Court challenging the constitutionality of their arrest under Malawian law but have yet to receive a ruling.
Following the arrest of Monjeza and Chimbalanga, three things have happened. First, Malawi’s gay rights movement has become much more active. Second, Malawi has harshly cracked down on gay rights activists. Third, the international community has mobilized, demanding the release of these two men and the repeal of homosexuality as a crime in Malawi. I view two of these outcomes as very positive, and unfortunately, one of them not so much. The arrest of someone for putting up posters that read “Gay Rights are Human Rights” is not only harassment, but it is violative of freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Malawi is a signatory.
Malawi is also pushing back against the international community, stating other nations and individuals have no right to dictate the laws in their country, raising fears Malawi will only entrench further on its anti-homosexuality stance in the face of this criticism. As a general rule, I appreciate the concept of sovereignty and that other States should stay out of the business of running a nation. However, when persons are discriminated against, their rights violated, their civil liberties trampled, their basic freedoms curtailed and their safety endangered purely because of who they are as individuals, it is the duty of all human beings to stand up and say that this is wrong.
President Mutharika looks to have a very busy year between settling into a new marriage and assuming the African Union chairmanship. The increased visibility and prestige of chairing the African Union makes it incumbent upon Mutharika to set positive standards for all of the continent. Monjeza and Chimbalanga return to court tomorrow as their case resumes. Stand up and do your duty as a global citizen and urge Malawi to treat all its citizens, gay and straight, president and average Joe, with love.