Malawi Couple Pardoned by President

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza departing court May 20, 2010.

It was a lovely and welcome surprise this morning to learn that President Mutharika pardoned Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. This pardon came only because you as activists stood in solidarity with Steven and Tiwonge and demanded their rights to equality under the law. We joined the voice of the international community demanding these individuals not be persecuted because of their love.

But we are asking you not to rest on your laurels. There is still much work to be done. Acts of homophobia occur globally. Amnesty USA is taking action this June during Pride month to call attention to acts of discrimination, hindering progress towards equal rights for all.

Malawi will remain a featured case for this campaign. President Mutharika bowed to international pressure. Many governments condemned the arrest, prosecution and harsh sentencing of this couple. The United States government issued a strong statement, South African President Zuma roundly denounced their treatment, governments threatened to withdraw aid, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon met with President Mutharika right before the announcement of the pardon.

In his pardoning statement, President Mutharika clearly showed no acceptance, understanding or appreciation of gay rights.

“These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws … I have done this on humanitarian grounds but this does not mean that I support this.”

It is clear that discrimination and persecution will continue in Malawi and so we call for the repeal of the law allowing the arrest and imprisonment of gay people, a law that contravenes Malawi’s constitution and international treaties. Look for this action to be live when we launch our Pride campaign June 4th.

Gay Malawian Couple Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison

gay flagToday a gay couple in Malawi was sentenced to serve the maximum possible sentence of 14 years in prison. They were convicted on May 18th of unnatural acts and gross indecency. Personally, I think jailing people for expressing their love is both unnatural and indecent.

In December, Steven and Tiwonge celebrated their love with a traditional engagement ceremony at the hotel where Tiwonge worked. The publicity generated by the ceremony alerted authorities, leading to their arrest. They knew the risk they took, but are so dedicated to each other and their relationship, they proceeded anyway with their public declaration of love. Because of that commitment and desire to spend their lives together in a loving relationship, they are now sentenced to serve prison time. Tiwonge purportedly released the following statement prior to the sentencing:

“I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless.”

At the sentencing, the judge stated he was giving the maximum sentence in order to scare the public and inhibit other gay people from following this “horrendous example.” Amnesty International considers Steven and Tiwonge to be Prisoners of Conscience and declared the sentence to be an “outrage.” The men have three weeks to file an appeal and Amnesty will continue to campaign vigorously on behalf of these two men. We will call upon the Appeals Court to overturn their conviction and release them unconditionally. Check back soon as an action will be live on this case in the next few days. In the meantime, please go here to get information about how you can urge the US Congress to take action on behalf of Steven and Tiwonge.

Support Congressional Resolution Demanding Release of Malawian Gay Couple!

Last week, Congressman Kirk (R-IL) and Congresswoman Baldwin (D-WI) introduced a Resolution before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee calling on the Malawi government to release Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, a gay couple imprisoned since December. They were arrested following an engagement ceremony and have been denied bail by the court. The Resolution calls for their release on humanitarian grounds and bring Malawi into compliance with international law treaties to which it is a party. Amnesty International has declared Tiwonge and Monjeza to be Prisoners of Conscience and are also urging their immediate release.

Contact your Representatives and Senators and urge them to co-sponsor this Resolution. We might not always like how we wield it, but the US still has much power and sway in this world, and this strong statement can continue to put pressure on the Malawi government to treat its citizens with the equality it has promised.

Find your Representative (top left corner of Home page)
Find your Senator (top right corner of Home page)
Contact Representative Baldwin and Representative Kirk’s offices and tell them you support this Resolution. (1.202.225.2906 and 1.202.225.4835)

Long Awaited Day in Court for Gay Couple in Malawi

flagA 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.

Standing Up for LGBT Rights in Malawi

Back in early January, we called for the unconditional release of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, two men who were arrested after having a traditional engagement ceremony in Malawi. They were charged with “unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency” and were reportedly beaten while in custody. In Malawi, homosexual acts can carry a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. And just yesterday, the BBC reported that there will be a full trial for the two men beginning in April. The men deny the charges and will soon have to begin calling defense witnesses.

This case serves as a sad reminder of the state of LGBT rights in much of Africa. In Uganda, the debate rages on over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that was introduced in December 2009. In Kenya, anti-gay rallies have been held and attacks have been carried out against openly gay citizens. And in Malawi, religious leaders are responding to the trial by reaffirming their stance against homosexuality. In this climate of hate, those crying out for acceptance cannot be heard.

The trial of these men, purely on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation, is a gross violation of their rights to freedom of conscience, expression and privacy - Véronique Aubert, Amnesty International’s Deputy Africa Director

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.

Rebecca Friedrichs contributed to this blog post.