A court date has been set for the trial of Malawi nationals Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza. The charge? Engaging in “unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency,” punishable by up to 14 years in prison. The evidence? A traditional engagement ceremony between the two men held December 27th, 2009. After determining there was enough evidence to hold the men for trial, the date is set for May 18th. In the meantime, both Monjeza and Chimbalanga are confined in inadequate prison conditions. Mr. Monjeza is ill, and while receiving some medical treatment, his condition is no doubt made worse by the conditions of his imprisonment.
The announcement came on the heels of the President of Malawi Bingu wa Mutharika’s marriage to his second wife. President wa Mutharika enjoys the liberty to marry while Mr. Chimbalanga and Mr. Monjeza are subject to public humiliation and shunning for their desire to join lives. President wa Mutharika, who had previously remained relatively quiet on the matter, purportedly recently denounced the two men describing homosexuality as “foreign” and “un-African”. No doubt, such a declamation taints the prospect for a fair trial for these two men and further emphasizes the need for local and international pressure to demonstrate the global call for LGBT rights.
It is time Malawi take up the charge of progressive democratic policy making and release these two men. Not only does the Chimbalanga-Mojeza trial provide a test case for LGBT rights, but given Malawi’s current role as African Union Chair, a favorable decision for the defendants can serve as a model for LGBT rights specifically and human rights advocacy generally in Africa.
The demand and culture for human rights always needs a seed. Some case or event which highlights the dramatic needs for more robust human rights laws and awareness in a country. No matter the country, no matter the right, it is an occasion for all people who believe in the rights and freedoms of every individual to have their voice heard. The call for LGBT rights goes beyond individual liberty. It also addresses public health concerns surrounding HIV/AIDS in Africa. The lack of openness on homosexuality produces a chilling effect on efforts to combat HIV/AIDS regionally.
Help us stand up and speak out against the trial of Steven and Tiwonge, and remind the Malawian government that criminalization of homosexuality and sexual identity is banned under many of the treaties Malawi has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. Check back at Amnesty USA’s web site after June 1st to take action on behalf of these men and others as we highlight this case as part of a larger Pride action. We also urge you to take part in a local PRIDE activity in June to stand in solidarity with these two men.