Homosexuality is little tolerated or accepted in much of Africa. South Africa legalized gay marriage in 2006, but incidence of hate crimes towards gay and lesbian persons are not uncommon. Uganda is currently contemplating a new law allowing the death penalty for those convicted of being gay. This criminalization of homosexuality occurs in many African countries, and Malawi is no exception. So when two men pledged their love and commitment to each other last month, they were promptly arrested.
On December 26th, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga held a traditional engagement ceremony in Blantyre’s poor township of Chirimba. Two days later, the men were arrested after the story was reported in local newspapers. The charges were “unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency.” They were reportedly beaten by police while in custody.
On January 4th the men appeared in court and were denied bail “for their own safety” and “in the interest of justice.” They are currently being held at Chichiri prison until their next scheduled court appearance on January 11th. Further, Malawian authorities have attempted to compel the men to submit to forcible medical examinations, falsely believing this will prove past sexual relations, in order to charge the men with sodomy.
Laws criminalizing homosexuality violate international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Malawi has ratified both these documents and has an obligation to abide by their precepts. Amnesty International considers individuals imprisoned solely for their private consensual sexual relationships as prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.