Malawi gay sentence attracts international condemnation

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Malawi has attracted international criticism after a court slapped a black gay couple with a 14 year jail sentence with hard labour.

The two men, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, were found guilty of committing unnatural acts.

In sentencing Malawi’s first openly gay couple on Thursday judge Nyakwawa Usiwa said he wanted to protect the public from them.

“I sentence you to 14 years’ imprisonment with hard labour each. That’s the maximum under the penal code,” he said.

“I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example,”.

Their fate has drawn condemnation from foreign governments and human rights organisations amid reports that it could jeopardise foreign aid assistance.

Britain, Malawi’s main bilateral donor, has said it was “deeply dismayed” by the harsh ruling.

Several Malawi publications on Friday are quoting a joint statement issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) saying “the sentencing and conviction ran counter to the progress made by the country on improving human rights”

“We are deeply dismayed by the conviction for buggery and indecent practices of Mr. Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Mr. Steven Monjeza. We are also very concerned by the allegations of their mistreatment in police custody,” FCO Minister Henry Bellingham, International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone, wrote.

“Britain has a close and strong partnership with Malawi and it is in this spirit that we raise our concerns. The UK believes that human rights apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,”

“The UK urges the government of Malawi to review its laws to ensure the defence of human rights for all, without discrimination on any grounds” the statement added.

African civil society organisations have also slammed the sentecing:”[We] call on Malawian authorities to repeal discriminatory laws criminalising private sexual behavior. The conviction and sentence is a travesty which has set back Malawi’s efforts to address the HIV pandemic”.

“The criminalization of individuals based on their sexual orientation is not just a human rights issue – it also undermines investment in HIV and AIDS as it drives sexual behavior underground and creates an environment where HIV can more easily spread”, Prof. Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund said in a statement.

“This ultimately affects the broader population, in addition to the devastating impact it has on communities of men who have sex with men,” he continued.

The organisations reacting were: the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (Arasa) the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (Salc), the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), and the Global Fund.

In their statement released Friday, the Geneva based Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria also highlights a recent study by Beyrer C et al on Bisexual concurrency, bisexual partnerships, and HIV among southern African men who have sex with men (MSM) which revealed that “in southern Africa more than 50% of men who have sex with men also have sex with women”.

London-based human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group OutRage! didn’t miss the opportunity to condemn the sentence saying the two convicts “love each other and have harmed no one. Yet they get a sentence more severe than some rapists, armed robbers and killers”

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