afrol News, 19 May - Yesterday's conviction of a gay couple of "gross indecency" and "unnatural acts" has caused an international uproar. Malawi's donors are disappointed and South African trade unionists prepare for protests.
Not surprisingly, a court in Blantyre, Malawi's second city, yesterday convicted Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga for committing so-called "unnatural offences" and "indecent practices between males". Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga were arrested in December 2009 after celebrating their engagement and have been in jail ever since.
The young gay couple may now face 14 years in Malawian prison over their sexual orientation. Their sentence is expected on Thursday.
The conviction is causing protests against homophobic laws, judges and politicians in the impoverished Southern African nation. Key donors have already threatened to reconsider their generous support to the Malawi government over what they see as grave human rights violations.
The human rights group Amnesty International called on Malawian authorities to "immediately and unconditionally" release the couple. "Being in a relationship should not be a crime. No one should be arrested and detained solely on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity," said Amnesty's Michelle Kagari in a statement.
"Their human rights, the rights to freedom from discrimination, of conscience, expression and privacy have been flagrantly violated," Ms Kagari added. "The conviction of this couple is a step backward for Malawi," she said. Amnesty declared the gay couple being "prisoners of conscience".
Also the powerful trade union of South Africa, COSATU, "condemned in the strongest terms" the conviction of Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga. "The continued incitement, in multiple African countries especially Zimbabwe, Malawi and Uganda, against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is a gross violation of human rights," a COSATU statement said, adding that the door had been opened to reversing and retard progress on all human rights.
The South African trade union today organised an "emergency picket" outside the Malawian High Commission today "to draw the world's attention to this outrage." COSATU further called on its ANC allies in the South African government to denounce the sentence and to raise the issue in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The South African human rights group Section27 joined COSATU in their protests.
Also in Malawi, groups are protesting the treatment the young gay couple has been given. The Malawian organisation the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) condemned the conviction, saying the ruling "undermines Malawi's commitment to the rule of law and jeopardises the human rights of all Malawians."
The ruling was said to be part of a broader pattern of mounting pressure and persecution on sexual minorities by authorities in Malawi. This persecution has come from the highest levels of government. On 23 April, President Bingu wa Mutharika reportedly denounced homosexuality as "un-Malawian," "evil" and "disgusting" and linked it to corruption, violence, theft and prostitution.
Days later, on 26 and 27 April, police appeared at a conference on the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations in HIV/AIDS programming. Police demanded the names of conference organisers, seized copies of the conference program, and inquired about specific individuals believed to be in attendance. Police refused to present a warrant or justification for the intimidation, according to CEDEP.
Dunker Kamba, Administrator of CEDEP, added that "this judgment is going to drive the gay community further into hiding. It is not only a ruling against Steven and Tionge but the whole LGBT community in Malawi and Africa."
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